The country is witnessing one of only a handful of times in its history that Congress has gone through with public hearings on whether to impeach a president. And yet, the overwhelming majority of Americans across parties say nothing they hear in the inquiry will change their minds on impeachment, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.
Half of Americans said they approve of the impeachment inquiry — about the same as the poll found last month. Respondents are also split on whether they think Trump should be impeached and removed from office.
But 65% of Americans say they can't imagine any information or circumstances during the impeachment inquiry where they might change their minds about their position on impeachment. And 30% say yes, it's possible.
It's a tangible example of just how locked in most Americans are in their partisan positions, even as nearly a dozen people have either testified or are set to testify in the impeachment inquiry. The poll was conducted Nov. 11-15 — before, during and after the testimonies of the first three witnesses to be called in the inquiry.
Eight more people are slated to testify this week. The inquiry centers on the accusation that President Trump, through his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others, pressured Ukraine to conduct investigations of conspiracy theories related to the 2016 presidential campaign and Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter in exchange for military aid and a White House meeting for Ukraine's president.
"We're really not seeing either a backlash or a positive," Barbara Carvalho, director of the Marist Poll, said of the impeachment inquiry. "What we're seeing is people just locking in."
Democratic leaders held off on aggressively pursuing impeachment for months fearing a backlash from the public. So far, that hasn't happened.
By 47%-41%, Americans say they are more likely to support impeachment based on what they've heard or read from the testimonies and evidence presented. And the testimonies could actually be serving to harden their views — 86% of Democrats said they are now more likely to support impeachment after hearing testimony and evidence, while 83% of Republicans said they are less likely to now support impeachment.
Some 70% of registered voters say they've been paying "very" or "fairly" close attention to the House impeachment inquiry. And 53% of those paying at least fairly close attention say they're more likely to support impeachment.
Democrats are the ones following most closely with 78% saying they're doing so, compared with 68% of Republicans and 66% of independents.
Half of people say they approve of the impeachment inquiry — 50% — compared to 43% who don't. That's about the same as in the poll a month ago (52% to 43%). But Americans are pretty much split down the middle — 45% to 44% — on whether they think Trump should be impeached and removed from office.
There is little question, however, what Americans think of Trump's conduct on that now-infamous July 25 call, in which Trump asked the president of Ukraine for a "favor" to conduct the investigations.
Seventy percent say it is not acceptable for a president to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political opponent. That includes 53% of Republicans who say it's either unacceptable (37%) or they're unsure (16%).
But is that impeachable?
"They think it's wrong," Carvalho said. "They disagree on whether it's impeachable or not."
Most Americans also think the whistleblower's identity should be protected — 56% say so; 39% say the person should be revealed. There's a big partisan split, however, with 83% of Democrats saying the person should be protected, and 78% of Republicans saying the person should be revealed.
2020 — a fluid race
On the 2020 presidential contest, 69% of Democrats say they're happy with the field. Less than a quarter say they're not.
Three-quarters of Democrats also say they still haven't made up their minds on who to vote for, down only 7 points since July, the last time the question was asked in the survey.
The survey also asked a battery of candidate qualities that would make a voter most "enthusiastic" to vote for that person.
Being a woman is the most desirable quality in a candidate among all registered voters. But there were big differences by party. Democrats would be most "enthusiastic" about voting for a woman, someone who is gay or lesbian, or someone under 40.
The top three qualities for Republicans, on the other hand: a business executive, a white man or a woman.
President Trump's approval rating has remained remarkably steady since taking office, and this survey is no different. Trump's job approval in the poll is 41%, statistically unchanged from last month when it was 42%.
Views of him are slightly worse when it comes to his handling of foreign policy (39% approve), and they nosedive on Syria (33% approve). Trump withdrew troops who were fighting alongside Syrian Kurds, something that upset a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
Also remaining steady: the percentage of people saying they definitely will not vote for Trump in 2020 — 52%, unchanged from last month.
Of course, 54% of voters did not vote for Trump in the 2016 presidential election, either.
The survey of 1,124 adults and 988 registered voters was conducted from Nov. 11 to Nov. 15. Where adults are referenced, the poll has a +/- 3.5 percentage point margin of error. Where registered voters are referenced, it has a +/- 3.8 percentage point margin of error. There are 453 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents with a margin of error of +/- 5.7 percentage points.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The public hearings underway in the House are historic, but an overwhelming majority of Americans say nothing they hear during these hearings is going to change their minds on whether or not the president should be impeached. That is according to a new NPR "PBS Newshour" Marist poll. NPR's Domenico Montanaro has been looking at the poll and its results. He's here now. Hi, Domenico.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there.
KELLY: So first off, are people riveted or are they exhausted and tuning out? What does this poll tell us about how closely people are paying attention to everything going on?
MONTANARO: Well, they are paying pretty close attention, you know? Seventy percent of registered voters saying that they're paying very or fairly close attention to the House impeachment inquiry - but I have to say, Democrats are the ones who are paying the closest attention followed by Republicans and Independents after that. And Independents are generally, you know, the least engaged, and they're the ones who are the most swayable.
KELLY: All right, so let's drill down on a little bit of this. Does the poll tell us whether people approve of the job, disapprove of the job that Congress is doing by holding these hearings, by questioning all these witnesses?
MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, so there's a difference between whether people support the impeachment inquiry and whether they support the president being impeached and removed. So we're seeing about half of people - 50% say they approve of the inquiry itself. Forty-three percent say they don't. That's about the same as it's been for a couple of months. Late September, when we saw this shift with Independents who've moved toward Democrats, and Democrats have now kind of held them - but when it comes to whether they think President Trump should be removed from office, there's a partisan split - 45-44. You have 45% of people say he should be impeached and removed, 44% saying he should not. That's basically the floor for where any presidential candidate starts.
KELLY: What about the conduct of the president in general with the Ukraine issue?
KELLY: What does the poll say about that?
MONTANARO: Well, here, there's little ambiguity, really. I mean, 70% of people think that what the president did was not acceptable to - for a president to ask a foreign leader to investigate a domestic political opponent. And that includes, by the way, 37% of Republicans who say it's unacceptable, and 16% of Republicans in addition to that are unsure. So you basically have a majority of Republicans who are saying it's either unacceptable or they don't really want to criticize the president, but they're not willing to say that it's an acceptable thing to do.
KELLY: So what's the takeaway? What should we make of these numbers, particularly now that we are in this next phase of open hearings?
MONTANARO: Well, I think one of the big things is that Democratic leaders were really nervous about this whole process, right? They were very cautious. They thought there'd be a backlash about impeachment. So far, that hasn't borne out. In fact, our poll shows that people who are paying the closest attention are more likely to support the inquiry. So in that way, Democrats feel like if they can continue to simply present the facts in a sober, mostly dispassionate way, they might be able to win over that slim number of people who are persuadable.
KELLY: Although the very first headline I mentioned from the poll was that everybody says they've already made up their minds, and no matter what happens in this hearing, they're not going to change themselves.
MONTANARO: It's certainly something. Two-thirds of Americans told us they can't even imagine that anything comes out in this process that would change their mind one way or another. There are 30% that say that they are somewhat swayable, but that's it. And, you know, that is probably less than that for those who are truly movable.
KELLY: NPR's Domenico Montanaro - he's our senior political editor and correspondent. Thank you.
MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.