The U.S. House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump is unlikely to sway voters’ positions, according to Indiana University professor of political science Marjorie Hershey.
Why? The country has become too polarized.
“I really do think attitudes toward Trump have hardened to such an extent that there are very few people in the country whose minds would change (based on an impeachment inquiry),” Hershey said. “The undecided voter is an endangered species. The independent voter is an endangered species.”
Hershey said polarization of the party system and public has been steadily increasing over several decades. She added even if the House votes to impeach Trump, it is unlikely the U.S. Senate would convict the president, which would remove him from office.
Edward Carmines, also an IU professor in political science, said whether the impeachment process will sway public opinion remains to be seen. He added it certainly is something that has caught both public and media attention.
“But, this is still evolving and we have to wait and see how the public responds to these new charges and indeed how the members of the House and Senate respond as well,” Carmines said.
On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, announced the launch of a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump. The inquiry is investigating whether Trump abused the powers of the office in seeking help from a foreign power to undermine potential Democratic presidential rival and former Vice President Joe Biden. An unnamed whistleblower filed a complaint alleging that the president asked Volodymyr Zelenskyy, president of Ukraine, to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, and that White House staff attempted to cover up the incident.
Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen said the U.S. Constitution gives the House and Senate a lot of flexibility as to how to proceed with the impeachment process. She said the House has the power to impeach while the Senate has the power to try it.
Johnsen said it is important to note that this is just the beginning of an inquiry into whether the president committed an impeachable offense. She said an impeachable offense does not have to rise to the level of a crime and the burden of proof is not the same as in a court of law. She said determining whether something was an impeachable offense is more about whether there has been a violation of the public’s trust or an abuse of the power of an office.
The alleged presidential misconduct and evidence presented so far, she said, is enough that the House has an obligation to proceed with at least an inquiry into the matter.
Carmines said Pelosi launching an impeachment inquiry into the president is significant, since she resisted previous calls to impeach Trump despite push from House Democrats. Even though an inquiry has started, Carmines said there is still a lot that needs to be sorted out. He said the multiple committees that have been investigating the president may focus on the most recent allegations instead of spreading themselves thin by including previous allegations of misconduct.
Hershey said while there are always risks associated with pursuing impeachment, the alleged misconduct by the president is difficult to ignore. She said only two presidents have ever been impeached, Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson, and neither one was removed from office. While impeachment proceedings for Richard Nixon were underway, he resigned before the process was completed.
Carmines said the move to impeach Clinton cost several House Republicans their seats in the next election. He said there is still some concern from Democrats who view that as a lesson on how impeachment could play out. He added right now there is not enough Republican support in the Senate to convict Trump, even if he ends up being impeached by the House. He added maintaining control of the Senate is important for the GOP going forward.
Carmines said the partisan makeup of districts and states may insulate some politicians from any ramifications of support for or against impeachment going into next year’s election. However, he said the most recent allegations have led a group of moderate Republicans to support impeachment. He added they must think that public opinion has reached a point that they can at least support moving forward with investigation into the president’s conduct and it would not be electorally disadvantageous for them.
“A lot still needs to be unfolded right up to the election,” Carmines said.
A MOTIVATING FORCE?
Hershey said even though she thinks the impeachment inquiry is unlikely to sway voters’ attitudes about Trump, it could be a motivator for both sides to strengthen party support ahead of the 2020 elections.
She said 90% of American voters consistently vote either Democrat or Republican. The other 10%, she said, includes individuals who are just not very interested in politics.
Hershey said party identification is stronger now and more widespread than it has been since the 1950s. She said this has resulted in a fairly new phenomenon called “negative partisan.” She said the phrase describes someone who is more politically driven by their hatred of the other party than by a commitment to their own.
“That brings the 2020 election down to turnout,” Hershey said.