When impeachment was a theoretical concept that Democrats might undertake, it wasn’t a popular concept, even as the Ukraine allegations were coming out. A Quinnipiac University poll found that 57 percent of Americans didn’t think President Trump should be impeached and removed from office.

But now that an impeachment inquiry is here, Americans seem more open to the idea. A CBS News-YouGov poll published Sunday found that more than half of Americans, 55 percent, approve of the fact that Congress has opened an impeachment inquiry into Trump.

Congress still has some convincing to do for the other half, which is dominated by Republicans loyal to Trump. But this poll suggests that the impeachment ground they’re working on is more solid now that the whistleblower allegations are out there.

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It’s important to point out that an impeachment inquiry is different from actual impeachment. An inquiry, which this poll asked about, is the first step in the impeachment process. It means lawmakers will investigate what, if any, “high crimes and misdemeanors” Trump may have committed. If they write up articles of impeachment and vote, then that’s impeachment.

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We aren’t there yet, so we have a sense only about how the public feels about actual impeachment in theory.

In August, after House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) declared that his committee was in an impeachment inquiry, Monmouth University found that a majority of Americans thought it was a bad idea — including 22 percent of people who disapprove of the job Trump is doing.

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Still, among the top reasons people thought it was a bad idea was because, they said, “Trump didn’t do anything wrong."

That suggests that even though Democrats have some minds to change, there’s an opening to change them: by convincing Americans that Trump did do something wrong. That’s where this July call between Trump and Ukraine’s president comes in.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has embraced an impeachment inquiry after Trump asked the Ukrainian president to investigate a potential 2020 election opponent, in part because she thought it was fairly simple to explain. At least, it is much simpler than the nuances of the Mueller report and the legal definition of collusion and obstruction of justice, etc.

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Now that Trump released the transcript of the call, and now that the Trump administration publicly released a redacted version of a whistleblower complaint alleging broader corruption, Pelosi and House Democratic leaders are moving forward with even more conviction. Pelosi said last week that Democrats’ consensus is for the inquiry to stay as focused on Ukraine as possible.

Execution of all this matters with how the public perceives what happens next.

Ahead of Pelosi’s decision, the process in the House left more questions than answers. At a hearing earlier this month, Democratic lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee didn’t have a way around former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski’s stonewalling to elicit new or even particularly useful information.

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Now that they’re officially doing an impeachment inquiry, Democrats running the impeachment inquiry don’t seem to have a coherent strategy for how to win people over. Many Democrats were hoping that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s testimony this summer, where he read some of the damaging things his report uncovered about Trump out loud, would be that strategy. It didn’t move the public opinion dial significantly.
Part of the problem for Democrats is that Republicans’ messaging is just simpler. Impeachment inquiry = overreach of government. “I think they hate this president more than they love their country,” Lewandowski said of Democrats at the hearing.

This CBS-YouGov poll shows that 72 percent of Americans think Trump’s actions with regard to Ukraine were either improper or illegal. Among those who think they were improper but still legal, Democrats can point out that there doesn’t necessarily need to be evidence of a crime for impeachment. It’s up to Congress to define what “high crimes and misdemeanors” means.

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Data in this survey also suggests that Pelosi can worry slightly less about how her more vulnerable members, such as the 31 who represent a district that voted for Trump in 2016, will fare under this inquiry. Of people who voted for a Democrat for Congress in 2018, 9 in 10 think this inquiry is necessary.

It’s early in the process. A lot can go wrong for both sides. But this first poll shows that as Democrats undertake a politically risky impeachment inquiry, they are on more solid ground than we originally thought.

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