Not that I’m looking for presidents to be impeached all the time. But imagine trying to forecast the weather on the third day of Earth’s existence. Maybe today will be like yesterday? It’s … sort of hard to say.
On Tuesday, the Monmouth University Polling Institute released an assessment of this moment for this president: 44 percent of respondents think Trump should be impeached and “compelled to leave the presidency” — slightly different language than other recent polls, which talk about “removal” of the president.
As with those other polls, there’s been a big swing toward support for impeachment in Monmouth’s latest survey, with a net 16-percentage-point swing in favor of impeachment since August. You can see the big spike in support for impeachment on the chart below.
As in those other recent polls, Trump’s approval rating and his kick-him-out-of-office rating (that is, impeachment) are about equivalent. Over the course of Trump’s presidency, the two have tracked fairly closely in Monmouth’s polling, something that’s obscured when we use the zoomed-in scale seen on the graph above.
If we zoom out? Looks a bit like two horizontal lines, with a bit more fluctuation on impeachment of late.
Consider that graph for a second. In Monmouth’s polling, there have consistently been two factions: The kick-him-out faction and the he’s-doing-a-good-job faction. I probably don’t have to spend too much time explaining that those factions overlap neatly with partisan sentiment. But just in case it wasn’t intuitively obvious, here’s what that looks like.
Democrats have wanted to see Trump removed from office since July 2017 — after the appointment of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, but before Mueller’s team obtained any indictments. Republicans have opposed impeachment for the same duration, even after the release of Mueller’s final report and its implications that the president obstructed justice.
In the middle, independents. The views of independents drive the overall number since Democratic and Republican views are so static. The independents graph looks like a mini version of the overall trend.
So more than two years into Monmouth’s polling, impeachment is back up — but still at only 44 percent. Approval is at 41, basically equivalent.
Here’s where we’re in three-days-of-weather territory. Compare the graph above with the same graph from the final two years of Richard Nixon’s presidency. Nixon won in 1972 by a landslide — a real landslide, not a Trump-Electoral College “landslide.” His approval in early 1973 was over 70 percent.
But as the Watergate scandal unfolded and new information came to light, his approval faded in Gallup polling. When Gallup started asking about impeachment, support for impeachment climbed steadily, even after Nixon’s approval flatlined around 25 percent.
Note the two vertical lines. Trump’s approval rating right now in Monmouth’s polling is about where Nixon’s was when only 24 percent of the public supported impeaching him. Support for impeaching Trump is about where Nixon’s was when Nixon’s approval rating was only 25 percent.
When Nixon’s approval started to fall, it fell across party lines. Democrats hit a low of about 10 percent well before Republicans hit their low of about 50 percent. Democrats hit their low in January 1974; Republicans didn’t hit their low until July. But Nixon’s approval among each group declined over time.
This is the key question, and one I’ve broached before. Can anything shake Trump’s approval numbers from where they’ve been the entire duration of his presidency? There’s been no indication that anything can but, again, we’re making history as we live it.
So far, Trump doesn’t look like Nixon. Nixon saw the two metrics move in opposition to each other: As his approval dropped, impeachment support rose. Trump just watches both of them float along next to each other.
Two other things jump out from that chart. That drop at the far right in Trump’s numbers looks something like the drop at the beginning of Nixon’s. Maybe … we’re just at the front end of a downward trend for Trump? What’s more, Trump’s been under fire since early in his presidency — and because we have Nixon as an example of what happens to embattled presidents — we’ve been polling about impeachment for more than two years. If we’d just started polling on it last month or so, we might see a diagram that looked a lot like the beginning of Nixon’s.
My guess is that the static nature of Trump’s approval is a good guide for what’s coming next: Republicans stay supportive, and Democrats remain skeptical. The recent shift toward impeachment, all measured in the week or so since the Ukraine scandal blew up, might be an aberration, not the start of a long-term trend. The politics will stay divided going into 2020.
Or perhaps there will be a hurricane that comes out of nowhere and obliterates all of my expectations. What do I know? The world of impeachment is only a few days old.