That top-line result seems to offer a point of contradiction to calls by Republicans in the Senate to move forward without witness testimony at all. But, in a broader sense, it is likely a reflection of an existing intractable divide on the issue that is obvious throughout both the CNN poll and a new poll from Monmouth University.
There are a lot of different ways the result might break down. Republicans and Trump supporters, for example, may support calls for testimony from people such as Hunter Biden, the son of the former vice president, who is at the center of unfounded allegations that drove Trump’s desire for investigations in Ukraine.
Compare the results above, showing Republican support for testimony, to a question about the rationale for Democrats wanting new witnesses. Two-thirds of Republicans and those who approve of Trump think Democrats just want witnesses to damage Republicans electorally. The witnesses Republicans want, it therefore seems safe to assume, are likely not those who Democrats hope are called.
The pollsters asked people to weigh in on how different parties are handling the impeachment process. While Democrats in Congress had more approval overall, neither they nor Republicans nor the president earned majority approval. Unsurprisingly, there were big partisan splits on this question: 4 in 5 Republicans approved of Republican and Trump handling of the process. A majority of independents disapproved of everyone’s handling of it.
Monmouth’s poll asked a slightly different question about witnesses. About half of respondents thought that testimony should be compelled with subpoenas, while a quarter thought that witnesses should simply be asked to testify. That was the most common response from Republicans.
Interestingly (and somewhat tangentially), Monmouth also asked respondents about a quid pro quo from the administration. The specific question was:
“Do you think members of the Trump administration made any promises or put any pressure on the Ukrainian president in return for investigating Joe Biden, such as giving or withholding aid, or did they not do this?”
There’s robust evidence that this did, in fact, happen, with multiple witnesses articulating instances of members of the administration telling Ukrainian officials about this sort of quid pro quo. Half of respondents in Monmouth’s poll think that happened. Two-thirds of Republicans don’t think it did.
CNN’s poll asked about the offenses at the heart of the articles of impeachment passed by the House. The numbers here are similar: A bit over half the country thinks that Trump did abuse his power and did obstruct Congress, as the articles allege.
This pattern should not only be familiar from the results above but, more broadly, from the entire Trump presidency. A slim majority of Americans does not like Trump; a smaller group does. That’s largely a function of partisan responses to the president, with Democrats overwhelmingly opposing Trump and Republicans overwhelmingly approving of him. Independents are the tiebreakers and fall more on the side of opposition.
In both the CNN and Monmouth polls, we end up with a seemingly remarkable result: There is more support for throwing Trump out of office than there is support for his administration. In what might seem alarming to the Trump reelection campaign, that holds both in battleground states (according to CNN) and in swing counties where the 2016 margin was 10 points or smaller (according to Monmouth).
But this, too, is largely just a proxy for opposition to Trump.
When Trump alleges that the impeachment effort is simply an attempt to throw out the results of the 2016 election, he is capturing an actual sentiment from people who don’t like him and have wanted to see him out of office since the outset of his presidency. That argument isn’t an effective counterweight to the evidence at stake in the impeachment, but it isn’t entirely invalid as a description of the opposition.
The launch of the impeachment inquiry in September increased support for impeachment to match views of Trump more broadly. As the effort ground forward, Democrats hoped the evidence that emerged would shift the underlying calculus seen above. That hasn’t happened.
The push to call witnesses during the Senate trial is in part driven by the desire to cast Republicans as hostile to a fair process. But it’s also driven by the desire above, to find some sort of rupture that might shake the foundation of the partisan divides.
These polls do not suggest that this is likely to happen.