In the last ten days, talk of impeaching President Trump has hit an all-time high. But how likely is it to actually happen? Democrats need 218 votes to pass articles of impeachment in the House of Representatives, and at 235 seats, they can afford no more than 18 defections (assuming Independent Rep. Justin Amash votes in favor). Even if the House did vote to impeach, there is almost no chance of impeachment resulting in a conviction in the Senate – which would require the support of at least 20 of 53 Republicans.
In the past half-century, there have been two serious efforts to impeach and remove a U.S. president from office. The first was against President Richard Nixon in 1974, and the second began in 1998 against President Bill Clinton. Now that we’ve entered the early phase of a third impeachment and removal effort, one may wonder if it will lead to victory or defeat for Democrats.
Using the ’74 and ’98 efforts as reference, the Brookings Institute released a study about what to look for as the impeachment proceedings continue. They identified three key items that may provide clues to the outcome and how it may impact the 2020 election.
1. Presidential Job Approval
According to Brookings, a president’s standing with the American people as the impeachment inquiry proceeds makes a big difference.
“As the Watergate hearings unfolded in the summer of 1973, President Nixon’s job approval fell steadily from 50% in the late spring of 1973 to just 24% at the beginning of 1974. During the next eight months, culminating in Mr. Nixon’s resignation, it barely budged. In short, Nixon was gravely damaged politically long before the House of Representatives voted to impeach him on three counts in July.
By contrast, President Clinton’s job approval, which stood above 60% at the beginning of 1998, never fell below 60% during that year, spiked upward to 73% at the end of the year, and stood in the high-60s as the Senate failed to approve either of the articles of impeachment in January of 1999.”
According to the Real Clear Politics average, President Trump has a 43.8 percent approval. This remains relatively unchanged from this earlier this summer. If this number fails to drastically change as this saga unfolds, the Democrats will likely suffer the same fate as did the Republicans two decades ago.
2. Public Support For Impeachment
The Brookings’ study contends that public support for the impeachment effort itself is also a key indicator.
“Public support for impeaching and removing President Nixon rose steadily through 1973, roughly doubling by the end of the year, and rose another 20 points from January to August of 1974.
In contrast, again, public support for impeaching and removing Bill Clinton did not budge through the summer and fall of 1998, despite congressional hearings, the explosive special prosecutor’s report, and approval of impeachment articles. On August 8, according to Gallup, 34% of Americans supported impeachment and 63% opposed it. The December 12 survey, which asked the same question word for word, found the identical result—34% in favor, 63% opposed. In the eyes of the American people, Clinton’s accusers had failed to make their case against him.”
Polls released over the last week have shown an uptick in support for impeachment, but analysts largely attribute that growth almost entirely to increased support among Democrats. Support for impeachment still remains below 50 percent – a Politico/Morning Consult survey conducted last weekend found that 46 percent of respondents now say Congress should begin impeachment proceedings, compared to 43 percent who say it should not. A slight uptick from earlier last week but still far from an overwhelming consensus.
3. Congressional Support For Impeachment
Finally, the last key indicator is the extent of bipartisan support for impeachment in the House of Representatives.
“When the House Judiciary Committee voted on impeaching President Nixon, 6 out of 17 Republicans supported the charge that he had obstructed justice, and 7 agreed with the charge that he had abused the powers of his office. This presaged the dramatic trip of a Republican senatorial delegation headed by Barry Goldwater to the Oval Office to inform President Nixon that support for him had collapsed, even among members of his own party. Informed that he would lose an impeachment vote and that the Senate would vote to convict him, Nixon resigned before either vote happened.
Events played out very differently in 1998. When the full House voted on articles of impeachment, only 5 Democrats out of 205 voted to support any of these articles. When the Senate voted on the two articles that had received a majority in the House, no Democrat supported either one, a result foreshadowed by the sharp partisan divisions in the House.”
Impeachment sentiment among House members is divided entirely along party lines, with more than 90% of House Democrats supporting an inquiry that will likely culminate in articles of impeachment, while not a single House Republicans has come close to voicing support.
The political calculus of actually impeaching the president could get quite complicated for Democrats in swing districts, too.
“Based on a close analysis of the 1998 and 2000 election results, veteran analyst Ron Brownstein concludes that House Republicans who defied sentiments in their districts by voting to impeach President Clinton paid at most a modest price, suggesting that moderate Democrats may not suffer much either in 2020. On the other hand, the Monmouth survey looked at swing counties, decided by less than 10 points in 2016, and found that only 32% of voters in these contested areas supported the impeachment and removal of President Trump, with 60% opposed, while just 22% thought that the Senate was likely to remove the president after the House voted to impeach him.”