Wisconsinites cool on impeachment even as hearings heat up

Stay tuned for more shifts in public opinion says pollster Charles Franklin

Mike Gousha and Charles Franklin discuss a Marquette Law School poll. (Picture by Marquette Wire)

On the same day Ambassador Gordon Sondland testified to the House Intelligence Committee about an explicit quid-pro-quo offer from the Trump administration to Ukraine, the new Marquette University Law School poll showed support for impeachment has declined among Wisconsinites.

Why is that?

Director Marquette Law School Poll
Charles Franklin

“On the Republican side it’s not hard to understand,” says poll director Charles Franklin. “The rally-around-your-team effect is something we’ve seen so much in recent years. At least in the short term, I would have expected Republicans to rally around Trump.”

Franklin was more surprised by the drop-off in support for impeachment among Democrats. 

“It’s not that Democrats turned away from impeachment,” he hastens to add. “it’s just that they became 3 or 4 points less enthusiastic.”

The poll, conducted Nov. 13 to 17, 2019  included 801 registered voters in Wisconsin interviewed by phone, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

Dig a little deeper into the poll results, and you will see that Republican voters do seem to have become more pro-Trump. Among those who identify as Republicans, 4% support impeaching and removing the president now, versus 6% in October. Among those who lean Republican, the number is 7% today versus 9% in October. 

Independents, meanwhile, are actually more likely to support impeaching and removing the president today (36%) than they were last month (33%). 

Democratic voters, meanwhile, have lost a little steam on impeachment since the public hearings began. Last month, 88% of Democrats and 78% of those who lean Democratic wanted to impeach and remove Trump. Today, 73% of those who lean Democratic and 81% of Democrats support impeaching and removing the president from office.

Still, sentiment for impeachment among Democrats has remained high since the inquiry launched, Franklin points out. 

Democratic voters in Wisconsin rallied around impeachment significantly between April and October, following the lead of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. ““When the leadership was saying, ‘No, no, no,’ support was tepid,” Franklin says (only 29% of respondents in the April Marquette poll thought there were sufficient grounds to hold impeachment hearings). “Then it went to the high 70s and 80s.”

Franklin also points out that the poll was conducted last Wednesday through Sunday. “Since we were out of the field on Sunday, this week’s testimony is not factored in,” he says.

“Give it time, and especially, watch to see if there’s a cumulative impact of the testimony,” he advises. 

Both people’s sense of the facts, and their conclusions about what should happen, could shift.

“Over 50% believe the president asked for an investigation,” Franklin points out, “but only 41% think he delayed aid. Listening to today’s testimony, you can imagine that number could move.”

An important context for the poll numbers is that only 33% of Republicans and 39% of Democrats say they are following the impeachment proceedings “very closely.” A majority of those who are actually tuning in — 61% — say Trump asked for an investigation into the Bidens. Among people who admit they are not following the impeachment proceedings closely at all, only 34% say Trump asked for an investigation. 

So paying attention has a substantial effect. 

Not only are Wisconsinites a little less keen on impeaching the president than they were last time they were asked, they also are feeling more bullish on the economy — and on Trump.

Trump leads all of his Democratic challengers in the latest Marquette poll. He leads Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren by 3 points each, and Pete Buttigieg by 8 points.

Franklin attributes Trump’s stronger approval rating on the economy to the stock market highs last month. People are feeling more optimistic about the economy for the coming year as well. “Positive economic evaluations are helping Trump. That has nothing to do with impeachment,” Franklin says.

As for Trump’s overall approval, which the poll shows is up by 1% since last month, Franklin says it shows Wisconsin is still in play.

“Last time the Democrats were a little ahead, but within the margin of error. This time, Trump is a little ahead but within the margin of error. That’s pretty much the definition of a close election,” Franklin says. “We’re still a battleground state.”

Ruth Conniff
Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine, and opened the Progressive’s office in Washington, DC, during the Clinton Administration, where she made her debut as a political pundit on CNN’s Capital Gang Sunday and Fox News. She moved to Oaxaca, Mexico, for a year in 2017, where she covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Donald Trump. Conniff is a frequent guest on All in with Chris Hayes on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, and other radio and television programs. In 2011, she did award-winning coverage of the uprising against Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. Conniff graduated from Yale University in 1990, where she ran track and edited the campus magazine The New Journal.