House Democrats insist they are leading an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump for one simple reason: His actions have left them no other choice.
The president and his Republican allies argue that the inquiry is just an attempt to tear him down - "an illegitimate sham partisan process," as the White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, put it Wednesday.
But with the first round of public hearings wrapped up and another scheduled for Wednesday, which message is sticking across the country?
Even more than with most issues, opinions on impeachment divide along partisan lines. While public opinion has fluctuated some since House leaders announced the impeachment inquiry two months ago, overwhelming majorities of Democratic and Republican voters continue to line up behind their respective parties. As a result, support for or opposition to impeachment rarely climbs much higher than 50% in any poll. (The impeachment inquiry itself is slightly more popular: By a margin of 5 to 10 percentage points, Americans tend to tell pollsters that starting the inquiry was a good idea.)
But a crucial slice of the electorate remains undecided. Close to 1 in 5 respondents to a national Quinnipiac University poll this week said they could still change their minds on impeachment - a low but not inconsequential number. And with the inquiry likely to stretch on for months, how it proceeds could affect voters' preferences in the general election campaign.
"It's still very early in the process, and we don't know how it's going to play out," said Simon Rosenberg, a Democratic consultant who runs the centrist New Democrat Network. "How the House conducts itself and how, frankly, the president conducts himself over the next six months will probably determine how this plays out in the fall of next year."
For now, Americans have a slightly more negative view of the president and his defenders than of the Democrats pursuing impeachment - though neither gets a warm reception from a majority of the country.
An ABC News poll released early this month found that 58% of Americans disapprove of how Trump has responded to the impeachment inquiry, while just 34% approve. Congressional Democrats also got a negative rating for their handling of the inquiry, but by a much closer margin: 50% of Americans disapprove, and 44% approve.
Similarly, by a 19-point margin, respondents to the ABC News poll were more likely to say that they thought Republicans in Congress who oppose the inquiry were more interested in defending Trump than in upholding the Constitution. Respondents were also more likely to say that Democrats leading the inquiry were trying to hurt Trump rather than simply abiding by the Constitution - but by a much smaller, 8-point margin.
By a factor of 2 to 1, moderates in that poll tended to say Republicans were defending Trump for political gain, not for constitutional reasons.
Overall, moderates lean Democratic and tend not to support Trump. In a Monmouth University poll earlier this month, moderate respondents by a 9-point margin said the president should be impeached and removed from office - even as that poll showed the country as a whole tilting away from impeachment. Among moderates, 63% said Trump's actions were grounds at least for investigation; only 6% of moderates in the Monmouth poll said he had done nothing wrong.
Yet in swing areas, opinion is still slanted slightly away from removing the president from office, according to the Monmouth poll, which isolated results from counties where the presidential vote margin was under 10 percentage points in 2016. Those counties tend to have far fewer African American voters, slightly fewer Hispanic voters and a bit more white voters than the national average, according to an analysis by Quorum - and white voters are generally more inclined to support Trump.
Each swing district has its own complex political characteristics, so it is impossible to draw firm conclusions based on a poll that aggregates data from swing areas around the country. But the broader trends carry implications about how the impeachment inquiry is perceived in some of the most politically volatile areas.
The fact that swing areas are still about evenly split on impeachment suggests that how the inquiry unfolds could make a big difference in shaping opinion in some of the most critical sectors of the country.
All told, Americans appear to be paying relatively close attention to the inquiry. About 3 in 5 respondents to the ABC News poll said they were following it at least somewhat closely, with about one-fifth following it very closely.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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