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Opinion This poll underscores the risk the GOP is taking on a sham trial

(Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

One of the problems that the drive to remove President Trump faces right now is the structural skew of the U.S. Senate. As Dave Wasserman puts it, the GOP Senate caucus is concentrated in states that comprise an electorate that’s more sparsely distributed, more white, more rural, and redder than the more populous states, where Democratic senators are concentrated.

That seems like it probably helps fortify Trump’s firewall of protection against removal, and even could make it more likely that GOP senators vote for a sham trial, regardless of national sentiment. But nonetheless, broadly speaking, the GOP probably runs real risks if Republican senators acquit Trump after turning his trial into a coverup, in which no new witnesses or evidence are admitted.

The latest Trump impeachment trial updates

The Pew Research Center has a new poll out that underscores why. It’s packed with new data on public attitudes toward impeachment and shows surprising support for it among particular voter groups that Republicans probably can’t afford to alienate too deeply this year.

The Pew poll finds that 51 percent of Americans support the Senate removing Trump, while 46 percent are opposed. That’s the second poll this week — after CNN’s poll released Monday — finding that a majority backs removal.

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But the Pew poll also has some surprises in the internals.

For instance: 53 percent of college-educated whites also support removal. Similarly, the CNN poll finds that 52 percent of college-educated whites supports the same.

Those are remarkable numbers, given the traditional moderate lean of this constituency, and may underscore once again the depth of alienation these voters feel from Trump. At the same time, Pew also finds that 64 percent of non-college-educated whites oppose removal, again demonstrating the deep divide Trump is driving among white voters along educational lines.

The Pew poll also finds that a stunning 63 percent of voters aged 18 to 29, and 55 percent of voters aged 30 to 49, support removal. By contrast, majorities of older voters oppose it, again demonstrating a similar Trump-driven cleavage.

Another remarkable finding: 63 percent of Americans say Trump has probably or definitely done illegal things either during the 2016 campaign or during his time in office. And only 32 percent of Republicans say Trump has done illegal things. But this is really something:

While a majority of the 32% of Republicans who say Trump has likely done illegal things either during the campaign or while in office also say he should remain in office (59%), about four-in-ten (38%) say the president should be removed from office.

A solid majority of Republicans who say Trump has probably done illegal things say he should remain in office.

The large majority of Americans who say Trump has done illegal things suggests there are a lot of voters out there who think Trump broke the law but don’t necessarily support removal. You’d think a sizable number of those voters — even if they think Trump should remain — might not look kindly on a sham trial that seeks to cover up Trump’s misdeeds.

And the striking majorities of college-educated whites and young voters also suggest a potential problem for Republicans, should the trial be widely seen as a coverup.

To oversimplify, one of the basic stories of the moment is that Democrats are winning surprising victories deep in Trump country, in part because Trump has so badly alienated young voters and educated, suburban, secular and more affluent whites — particularly women. And while Trump is massively juicing up energy in rural and exurban America, it isn’t quite keeping pace with that backlash.

This is having the paradoxical effect of deepening Trump’s advantage in the electoral college, largely because of the demographics of the industrial Midwest, in the sense that this split may mean he can squeeze out 270 electoral college votes while losing the popular vote by more than last time.

At the same time, Democrats are also finding ways to benefit from the cleavages Trump is driving by finding just enough of these more educated white votes to offset Trump’s electrification of his parts of the country. So one can see Democrats potentially winning in Wisconsin or Arizona because of these dynamics, despite his overwhelming advantage among non-college whites.

If a clear majority of college-educated whites and an overwhelming majority of young voters want to see Trump removed, acquittal after a sham trial could conceivably work against Trump and Republicans even in swing states, if it helps keep the anti-Trump backlash running strong through November.

Update: I’ve edited the post slightly for accuracy.

President Trump's impeachment defense could create a dangerous precedent, says constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP/The Washington Post)

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: How are Senate Republicans supposed to defend their impeachment vote?

Jonathan Turley: Where the Trump defense goes too far

The Post’s View: Trump’s impeachment defense is designed to destroy guardrails on presidential power

Marc A. Thiessen: Democrats are hoping John Bolton will bring down Trump. Good luck with that.

Henry Olsen: And so begins an impeachment trial that will change no one’s mind

The latest commentary on the Trump impeachment

Looking for more Trump impeachment coverage following the president’s acquittal?

See Dana Milbank’s Impeachment Diary: Find all the entries in our columnist’s feature.

Get the latest: See complete Opinions coverage from columnists, editorial cartoonists and the Editorial Board.

Read the most recent take from the Editorial Board: It’s not over. Congress must continue to hold Trump accountable.

The House impeachment managers weigh in in an op-ed: Trump won’t be vindicated. The Senate won’t be, either.

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