And just like that, Fox News put her story front and center. The frame was direct: Would more Democrats similarly back away from supporting impeachment?
This idea that the Democratic push to impeach Trump is starting to buckle has been at the center of conservative media for days. Trump himself touted poll numbers suggesting that Americans were turning against the idea — poll numbers that, by all appearances, he pulled from thin air. Lawrence, then, was an anecdotal point in a story that Trump’s defenders wanted to tell: Not even Democrats still think impeachment is a good idea.
That story, though, isn’t really accurate. The more accurate story is a less compelling one and, really, one that’s not much better for Trump’s opponents: Views of impeachment weren’t really affected by the impeachment inquiry’s public hearings.
We got another reminder of that Tuesday, with the release of a poll from CNN and polling partner SSRS looking at views of impeachment. Half of respondents said they support impeaching Trump and removing him from office — exactly the same percentage that said that in CNN’s late October poll. In fact, support for impeaching and removing Trump has been essentially flat since CNN’s poll in late September, shortly after the inquiry was launched.
Why? For the same reason that so many polls show a distinct lack of movement in the Trump era: because partisans sit at opposite poles and independents remain in the middle. Support for impeachment and removal among Democrats has risen sharply — but it’s counterbalanced by the strong opposition to impeachment among Republicans.
The partisanship of views about impeachment shouldn’t surprise anyone at this point. CNN, for example, compared current views of impeachment with views during past presidencies. In November 2014, for example, more than a quarter of Americans thought Barack Obama should be impeached and removed from office — more than half the current support even absent an impeachment inquiry or any significant scandal. Support among Republicans for impeaching Obama at that point was more than five times as high than it is for impeaching Trump.
Views of impeachment are often much more tightly connected to partisanship than to the evidence at hand.
CNN’s poll does suggest, though, that some Americans have yet to make up their minds on the issue. Democrats have been eager to persuade Americans to share their views of Trump, but 85 percent of respondents in CNN’s poll indicated they already had strongly held views of the subject. But what about that other 15 percent?
Well, unfortunately for the Democrats, a lot of those people probably aren’t paying much attention to the whole thing. Those paying very close or somewhat close attention to the impeachment proceedings generally support impeaching Trump and removing him from office. Those paying not too much attention or no attention at all — a group that makes up about a fifth of all respondents — are more likely to oppose impeachment than support it, but a fifth of them simply say they haven’t made up their minds.
If Democrats could get that group to pay attention, perhaps they could persuade them to back impeachment.
There are just two problems with that plan. The first is that we’re talking about a small percentage of all respondents, meaning that overall views wouldn’t change all that much even if they were to weigh in. (For what it’s worth, independents are more likely to fall into the not-paying-much-attention category than partisans.) The other problem, of course, is that Democrats have been trying to get people to pay attention to this issue for more than two months. If people haven’t tuned in yet, why would they now?
Democrats wanted to see something other than this, certainly. But Republicans did, too. So Fox News, never ones to let the narrative drive itself, is touting incremental changes like Lawrence’s shift to do what polling hasn’t: suggest that the Democrats have failed.