20

It appears that recently, Trump's approval rating has been rising despite impeachment, and the accusations and evidence against him.

How can this be explained? Has there been anything published about why the public continue to support him, and indeed seem to be becoming more likely to do so?

| improve this question | | | | |
  • 11
    Here is a frame challenge: That’s a single poll, the 538 popularity tracker aggregates the polls and puts the recent increase at about 2%: projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/… – jeffronicus Dec 19 '19 at 14:17
  • 6
    It's fundamentally unwise to grope for a single, specific reason that "the polls" do something, without that information being sought in polls themselves. It's even less wise to automatically assume strong connections between two (out of countless) events which occur around the same time. Finally, a strong response to a single, brief polling window trend is overdetermined-- if the approval numbers revert to their typical frame in a week or two (which has happened many times during this administration), then this entire question would evaporate. – Upper_Case Dec 19 '19 at 19:43
  • 1
    @Upper_Case-StopHarmingMonica That's pretty much the point the 538 crew made in their post-impeachment podcast: Trump's approval rating ticked up a net two points pre-impeachment, but we won't know for a week or two whether that's sustained. – jeffronicus Dec 19 '19 at 19:52
  • Keep in mind that Clinton's popularity also rose in the wake of his impeachment - whether or not this makes sense, it does give precedence for it to happen again. cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/stories/1998/12/20/impeachment.poll – Zibbobz Dec 19 '19 at 21:04
  • 1
    The rise in approval rating may not have anything to do with impeachment, it could be due to the China trade deal, Mexico/Canada trade deal, passage of the spending bill avoiding a govt shutdown, passage of the defense bill and Space Force, etc. – pacoverflow Dec 19 '19 at 23:00
23

From the very same article you cited about the very same poll that showed that Trump’s approval is up by about 6 percentage points:

Support for impeaching and removing the president has dipped slightly among independents, Gallup found, from 55 percent and 53 percent in two October polls to 48 percent in the latest survey.

If you split the difference between 55 and 53, you get 54, which is 6 points greater than 48.

Given that the drop in support for impeachment is exactly proportional to the increase in support for the President, and that there’s very little else in political news being reported at the moment, the simplest explanation is that independent voters are not being persuaded by the impeachment case that the Democrats in Congress have put forward.

| improve this answer | | | | |
  • 12
    to be noted that you're comparing a 6% of independents to 6% of the electorate. Unless everyone in the US is an independent (ahem...) I think that those two numbers are not really congruous to each other. – Federico Dec 19 '19 at 13:44
  • 6
    @Federico I am willing to bet there is ample evidence from prior polling that the partisans all had their minds made up before the process even started. – Joe Dec 19 '19 at 17:21
  • 2
    @Federico: YOu are right that his math is wrong, but the logic that it's the independent's shifting away from the democrats is the most likely valid explanation. Independents (or no party, since there is a very unknown Independent party) constitutes a larger majority of Americans than Republicans or Democrats and they have been for some time, the political faction to watch in polarizing issues as they typically tend to not factor a pary into their political decision making. They may certainly lean towards one, but they're not going to let lean override reason. – hszmv Dec 19 '19 at 18:02
21

Impeachment hasn't substantially improved Trump's approval rating.

Approval rating fluctuates for every president, as it's based on (a tiny subset of) the people's opinion, so you have to get the average of not only multiple polls, but also across multiple measurements in time, to see if it's actually trending up and trending down.

This is the historic trend of Trump's approval rating (black line) and disapproval (red line), over the past two years. enter image description here

Here's me roughly averaging it his approval polling, by eyeballing it (blue line). enter image description here

Here's me adding in the start and end of the Russian investigations, and the start of the Ukraine scandal and impeachment:

enter image description here

When you look at the broad picture, you notice that as he got ensnared in the Russian investigation and continued criticism and bad press over treatment of illegal immigrants, he dropped in approval, but it has since balanced out and has mostly held steady over the past year-and-a-half, with a small gradual upward trend as the economy has continued to do well. By "holding steady", it still has the regular up and down bouncing of people's opinions in the average of a dozen tiny polls measuring a thousand people here, a thousand people there, out of a nation of >325 million.

Trump's gradual upward trend pre-dates the impeachment process, by over a year.

Further, the fluctuations are of a few tiny points here or there, e.g. 1 out of a hundred people changing their mind slightly from "Extreme disapproval" to "Mild disapproval" or from "Neutral" to "Mild approval". These are not big swings of the population, if you look at the scale on the left side of the chart.

The impeachment hearings were rushed through so quickly, that it's really too short of a polling period to filter out the regular fluctuations of Trump's approval from the effect of the impeachment.

The impeachment hasn't had a substantially noticeable impact one way or another, with the exception of a small blip right when it began.

In my interpretation of this data, I'd say that it's not that the impeachment has increased Trump's approval, it's rather that the impeachment hasn't substantially decreased Trump's already very-very-very slowly increasing approval trend that started over a year prior to impeachment.

That much I can discern by looking at the raw polling data. So, the question becomes not, "Why has impeachment helped Trump?" (which it doesn't seem to have - at least, not enough evidence exists to substantiate that), but rather "Why hasn't the impeachment hurt Trump?". To answer that new question, we have to enter speculation, which obviously gets distorted by our personal biases.

Why hasn't the impeachment hasn't decreased Trump's approval? [Speculation / Personal opinion]

Any change in the polling we're measuring are mostly people who are neither concretely locked into being pro-Trump (concreted pro-Trumpers are solidly 38% of the country who've supported him without fluctuating) nor people concretely anti-Trump (solidly 42% of the country who haven't wavered against opposing him).

I would speculate, based on my biased interpretations of the trends visible in the charts above, that voters that are neither permanently Pro-Trump nor permanently Anti-Trump were really bothered by, and concerned about, Russian interference, and that the Russian investigation hurt Trump with these voters. The national narrative was, "Trump himself explicitly colluded with the Russians to win the election, and is working to impede the investigation."

But after the Russian investigation ended there was little concrete evidence that Trump colluded with the Russians (though he did impede the investigation in my opinion, but Mueller refused to issue a "verdict" on that), and non-concreted Americans mostly thought Trump was vindicated on the primary charge: outright collusion with Russia.

Then, when the Ukraine scandal began just a month or two later after the Russian investigation ""cleared"" Trump (or at least didn't convict him badly enough to be impeached), to these independents, it possibly failed to work against Trump, for several reasons:

  • First, to some, it looked like Democrats failed to convict him on outright collusion with Russia, and now were just throwing something else at him to try to get him out of office.

  • Second, what they were now impeaching him over ("clumsily abusing his office to get an edge over Biden in re-election") pales dramatically in comparison to "treason against the United States by colluding with our greatest enemy".

  • Third, Joe Biden has terrible optics here. Biden is on video openly bragging about removing a Ukraine investigator investigating a Ukraine company that his son, with zero relevant experience, was getting paid $600,000 a year by. (This was not Biden's motivation, and is missing nuance that vindicates Biden, but that's the narrative many were hearing). It doesn't help that Biden publicly stated he never discussed his son's Ukraine work, followed by Trump's campaign releasing photos of Joe Biden with his son and his son's Ukrainian boss golfing together, and these photos went viral. Trump putting pressure on Ukraine to reopen that investigation can, by squinting in the right light, be seen as almost reasonable to independent voters. Independents here aren't sympathetic to Biden, as it looks very "swamp-like" on the surface.

  • Fourth, the Russian investigation went on for months and months and months, and seemed really official and thorough, and was conducted independently by FBI, at the request of congress. In contrast, the Ukraine impeachment sped by in just two months, entirely controlled by a single political party, and the voting was entirely along partisan lines. No matter how neutral, fair, or unbiased they may have been, the optics looked partisan as hell in comparison to the Russian investigation.

  • Fifth, Trump's phone call that was the focus of the impeachment is rather ambiguously worded. In typical Trump fashion, he rambled around non-stop, jumping between multiple topics. To impassive third parties, it just sounds like clumsy Trump speaking clumsily. The reasoning goes, Trump is like a bull in a china shop, and if he was trying to do quid-pro-quo, he likely wouldn't have been subtle.

  • Sixth, the Prime Minister of Ukraine, who the articles of impeachment claims was being "pressured" by Trump in a quid-pro-quo, openly claims he wasn't being pressured, and it wasn't a quid-pro-quo. Sure, he could just be not wanting to rock the diplomatic boat, or even trying to win favor with Trump, but him publicly saying that does harm the perception of the impeachment process to undecided voters.

  • Seventh, several expert Democrat witnesses the Republicans had provided to testify during the impeachment process - professors of law at various universities - very smoothly and publicly articulated why they opposed the impeachment, and why they, as Democrats, thought the Democrats were in the wrong. Accurate or not, that harms the optics of the impeachment process.

(Note: I keep using the word "optics", because we're talking about why public polling of random citizens many shift one way or another. In such cases, optics is everything, as unsubstantiated opinion is exactly what the polls are measuring).

  • Eighth, it's come out recently that the CIA made several huge mistakes during the past Russian investigation, that cast the Russian investigation in a bad light, and make the Russian investigation look more partisan in hind-sight. These revelations occurred during the impeachment process, and their effect on the polled public's perceptions can't be separated from the effect of the impeachment hearings themselves. For example, James Comey himself has been publicly admitting he botched part of it, when getting the FISA warrants to even begin the investigation.

  • And finally, a few Democrat congressmen have openly said they need to impeach Trump so he doesn't win re-election. Giving the impression that the impeachment is just a partisan attempt to derail Trump, in the same way they are claiming Trump was abusing powers of office to derail Biden. Sure, hundreds of Democrats may have been taking the impeachment process in a perfectly unbiased and neutral way, but if even one or two Democrats publicly say they themselves are being partisan, it gives the impression all the two hundred others silently are also.

All this adds up so that people who are neither rabid anti-Trump nor rapid pro-Trump could feel far less worried about the Ukraine scandal than they did about the Russian scandal, and isn't letting it tamper their slightly rising approval over the good economy.

Note: As the question itself is one that can only be answered by speculating individual voters opinions, I've tried to provide reasons why they might have leaned more Trump-ward over the impeachment process. No concrete answer can be given without examining the unique individual minds of the voters polled.

| improve this answer | | | | |
  • @divibisan You're absolutely correct - the second half is far less polished than the first half, as I had to run out the door when writing it. I'll try to more clearly demarcate fact from speculation. I don't think I can fully eradicate speculation though, as the question itself can only be answered by speculation ("Why has Donald Trump's approval rating been rising since impeachment processes started?"), I think. – Jamin Grey Dec 20 '19 at 2:37
  • @divibisan I cleaned it up somewhat, and also emphasized more the parts that are speculation. Is it any better? Also, how would you suggest it be improved further? I can't rid all speculation from it, as it's the nature of the question that essentially demands speculation. – Jamin Grey Dec 20 '19 at 3:12
  • 2
    I think it's much better now that you've made a clear distinction between the fact and the interpretation parts, and you've made it much clearer which arguments you're making and which you're quoting as others' reasoning. Thanks for taking my criticism seriously – divibisan Dec 20 '19 at 3:46
9

The easiest explanation is that it's a matter of who people believe. The Republican stance on the impeachment has been that it is a partisan hitjob intended to oust a democratically elected President for no justifiable reason. They're using Pelosi's own words against her from when she stated that she did not want to move forward on impeachment unless there was strong bipartisan support. And unfortunately, there has been zero bipartisan support, and there has even been dissent within the ranks of the US House of Representatives, with one Democrat expected to switch parties in January. He and one other Democrat from a strongly red district voted against impeachment.

The other defense talking point has been to read the transcript of the Ukraine call. These next bits are primarily conjecture and personal opinion, with limited documented support, so please take them with a grain of salt; The transcript is too long and dull of a read for the average voter. It's 5 pages of largely dull conversation that, without a decent knowledge of external factors (the way Congress had already approved aid, the other conversations denying a white house visit, etc.) doesn't look all that nefarious. Most people don't really want to sift through the document-- they want a snappy excerpt from it that supports the stance they've already taken, and they're inclined to believe whoever they hear that has agreed with them in the past. As such, their views on impeachment are those of whichever broadcasting network they've watched the most.

The final factor (and the one that I believe influences impeachment views the strongest) is that Senator Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans have made it clear that they intend to make the impeachment trial as swift as possible, and to settle on no convictions ASAP. The Republicans have a simple majority in the Senate at this time, and that's all it takes to override the objections of the minority party and deny admittance of evidence that they do not wish to see. Many believe that this means McConnell will block key witnesses who would be exceptionally damaging to the President, including those who have been barred from testifying in the House's prior investigations. When Bill Clinton was previously impeached, his support grew following the Senate's failure to convict him. Many persons who do not support Trump oppose impeachment because they believe that a failure to convict will strengthen his run in 2020 and could lead to 4 more years of Trump in the White House.

| improve this answer | | | | |
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – yannis Dec 19 '19 at 21:11
7

Any answer to this question will be opinion based...

It seems obvious that the Democrats have not made their case to anyone other than people already predisposed to dislike Trump.

The bump in popularity most likely is independent fence sitters not liking Trump more, but disliking how the House Democrats have spent most of their time pursuing Trump, and the manner in which they have done this.

| improve this answer | | | | |
2

I think we should look at what the voters are saying

"'It’s a joke. All they do is make up lies (ed note: Democrats),' said Robert Korhonen, of Fort Lauderdale, one of about 100 people who attended the monthly Americans for Trump Broward meeting Tuesday night — in a county that’s biggest Democratic stronghold in the state. 'It’s just a big frigging waste of time and I think most Americans are smart enough to understand what’s going on here.'

"Democrats, Korhonen added, are 'trying to throw as much crap against him as they can. Trump is not guilty of anything. He hasn’t done anything wrong. They keep throwing crap and trying to trap him in stuff. But he’s innocent. They got nothing. They got nothing.' "

And

"Of the more than dozen Democratic presidential candidates who have stumped in Storm Lake, only Tom Steyer brought up impeachment. Nobody is asking. They want to know about immigration (where half the town of 15,000 is Latino) and healthcare, and what to do about unreliable weather and corn yields.

And

“I think he’s doing a tremendous job, really, as far as I’m concerned,” poll respondent Wayne Sparker, 82, told the Register.

“I’ve been a Democrat all my life, but when he ran for office, when I could see what he was standing up for — for the borders and the different solutions he brought forth — I felt that I definitely needed to vote for him,” Sparker added.

| improve this answer | | | | |
  • 6
    Neither of those quotes are from independents, where it is noted that the change in approval is. – Michael W. Dec 19 '19 at 18:03
  • 4
    @MichaelW. Shouldn't switch voters be considered independents? – K Dog Dec 19 '19 at 18:04
  • 2
    I'm not familiar with any polls that consider "switch" voters as independent; that's why you'll never see Trump's approval at 0% among Democrats nor at 100% among Republicans. You're still what your registration says you are. – Michael W. Dec 19 '19 at 18:09
  • 1
    @MichaelW. not so sure some of these wouldn't be dropping their registrations for Democrats as a result of impeachment and what the view as Congressional priorities – K Dog Dec 19 '19 at 18:18
-4

Joe's answer is correct, but I think there is an additional reason. It has to do with voters' perception of fundamental fairness. By now it is indisputable that the FBI omitted key exculpatory evidence from FISA court filings during its investigation of Carter Page. Even Adam Schiff says they made serious mistakes. And now it looks like Trump did in fact pressure Ukraine to go after Biden.

But some independent voters are going to say, wait a minute. If the Democrats have been playing dirty with their investigations against Trump, why does it make sense to impeach Trump for trying (and failing) to play dirty and get Ukraine to investigate Biden?

EDIT: on the question of whether the FBI wrongdoing was supported by Democrats -- Schiff and Nunes had a lengthy argument about whether or not the FBI was breaking FISA rules. You may object that Schiff's assertion that the FBI was playing it straight is not the same as support of rule-breaking. But I suspect a significant number of voters will see things differently.

| improve this answer | | | | |
  • 4
    On this SE site it's important to use neutral language and unambiguous facts to the greatest extent possible. Instead of saying the FBI "went after" Carter Page you could have said that the FBI's FISA submission lacked key exculpatory facts that the FISA court expected them to provide. – President James K. Polk Dec 20 '19 at 2:43
  • 3
    How does wrongdoing at the FBI relate to the Democrats? The FBI is a law enforcement bureau, it doesn't serve a political party and there is no evidence of the Democrats making the FBI going after Carter Page. – JJ for Transparency and Monica Dec 20 '19 at 8:16
  • James -- done! I did say your second part, but I agree that "investigating" is better than "went after". – William Jockusch Dec 20 '19 at 15:12

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .