A pair of polls released on Sunday help explain why Democrats had to change their communication strategy last week.
A YouGov survey published on Sunday by the liberal website Huffington Post found that after the first week of testimony in the Democrats' inquiry into President Donald Trump's dealings with Ukraine, Americans remain evenly divided on whether he should be impeached and removed from office.
According to the poll, 45 percent of the survey's 1,000 respondents said the president should be impeached, while 42 percent said he should not be, a difference of 3 points. This is a notable improvement from the 9-point (47 to 38 percent) gap in favor of impeachment that YouGov found in October.
A different poll found similar results after the first week of testimony in the case. The study, which was conducted by Reuters and interviewed 1,115 Americans, found that 44 percent of adults believe Trump should be impeached, while 40 percent said he should not be impeached — a result similar to the 6-point (46 to 40 percent) margin Reuters found when it asked the same question in mid-October.
Polls show Dems are not moving the needle
Further underscoring the fact that Democrats have failed to convince Americans that Trump should be removed from office is that polls show that support for impeaching the president is more or less the same now than it was even before the Ukraine scandal broke.
A Reuters / Ipsos survey published in March — long before the impeachment hearings began and six months prior to the Ukraine controversy becoming public knowledge in September — found that 48 percent of U.S. adults already thought Trump should be impeached, while 40 percent said he should not be, said US News at the time.
One possible reason for why Democrats are failing to convince Americans that Trump needs to be removed from office is that Americans are sharply divided over Democrats' handling of the investigation. The November Huffington Post / YouGov poll found that 46 percent of Americans disapprove of their handling of the investigation, while 44 percent approve. Also, 49 percent of respondents said the impeachment inquiry has not changed their views of the Trump administration.
Meanwhile, respondents who have followed news stories related to the impeachment inquiry were asked if Democrats in Congress are making a good-faith effort to find out the truth or just playing politics. Among these, 46 percent said the latter while 43 percent said Democrats are making an honest attempt to ascertain facts. It's worth noting that among independents following the controversy, 49 percent said that Democrats are just playing politics while 36 percent said it's an honest pursuit of facts, a significant 13-point difference.
Democrats are also failing to convince Americans that Trump's actions were bad enough to merit impeachment. When asked to characterize whether the president "withholding military aid to Ukraine in order to get the president of Ukraine to investigate allegations of corruption against the Biden family" amounts to impeachable conduct, 39 percent of respondents in the Huffington Post / YouGov survey said that it does. However, 43 percent said it was either appropriate (17 percent) or inappropriate but not an impeachable offense (26 percent).
Context matters: 96% of media coverage of Trump is negative
Remarkably, congressional Democrats are failing to influence Americans' views on impeachment even while enjoying the home-field advantage of overwhelmingly negative media coverage of the president.
A study by the Media Research Center released last week described broadcast news coverage of President Trump as "more hostile than normal" since the Democrats' impeachment inquiry began. MRC found that from Sept. 24 to Nov. 5, the major news networks (ABC, NBC, and CBS) dedicated 398 minutes of coverage to the Ukraine scandal in their nightly news broadcasts, amounting to more than three-fifths of the total 645 minutes of news about during administration during the period.
In a memo summarizing the findings, MRC noted that "out of 684 evaluative comments included in these broadcasts, a whopping 96 percent have been negative, vs. a meager four percent that have been positive."
MRC also found that despite strong economic news in recent weeks, "the President's handling of the economy was given a stingy 4 minutes, 6 seconds of airtime during these six weeks, or less than one percent of all Trump administration news."
Despite this, the Reuters poll found the president's approval rating virtually unchanged since July at 41 percent.