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The majority of Americans think Congress should not begin impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump in light of the findings in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, according to the latest poll from the PBS NewsHour, NPR and Marist. But nearly six in 10 Americans think questions about the president’s conduct still exist.
Fifty-three percent of U.S. adults in the poll, which was conducted as Attorney General William Barr’s prepared to testify before the House and Senate about Mueller’s investigation, said the report should not lead to impeachment hearings against Trump. Thirty-nine percent said Congress should begin impeachment hearings, and 8 percent were unsure.
The support for impeachment in the poll breaks down along party lines. Ninety-one percent of Republicans said there should not be impeachment hearings, compared to 70 percent of Democrats who favor impeachment hearings. Fifty-one percent of independents said they opposed starting the process, compared to 40 percent who said they supported it.
In the report, a redacted version of which was released in mid-April, Mueller said he did not find evidence that the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia, whose interference in the 2016 election was well-documented in the report and through public indictments of Russian officials and companies over the course of the last two years. The special counsel did not come to a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice by attempting to impede the investigation, though he did describe several instances in which the president tried to interfere with the probe.
Barr concluded there was not enough evidence in the report that Trump obstructed justice– a characterization with which Mueller reportedly disagreed.
In the PBS NewsHour-NPR-Marist poll, 33 percent of Americans thought the report cleared the president of any wrongdoing. But 58 percent said questions about his actions still exist.
Some legal scholars and Democratic lawmakers have argued that Mueller’s report can serve as a road map for how Congress should proceed, including potentially launching impeachment proceedings.
When voters were asked more broadly what they think Congress should do with the findings of the Mueller report, the responses were more nuanced. Forty-two percent of Americans said Congress should take no further action, 33 percent said Congress should continue the investigation, 16 percent said Congress should start impeachment proceedings, 5 percent said Congress should publicly reprimand Trump and another 5 percent were unsure.
Among Republicans, 82 percent said Congress should take no further action. Independents and Democrats were more divided. Among independent voters, only 14 percent said Congress should start impeachment proceedings, compared to 38 percent who said Congress should continue the investigation and 38 percent who said they were in favor of Congress taking no further action.
Most Democrats, at 56 percent, said Congress should continue its investigations into possible wrongdoing. When given the option of continuing investigations as an alternative to impeachment, among other options, only 27 percent said lawmakers should start impeachment proceedings against Trump.
The views of Democratic voters reflects a larger split in the party, especially among lawmakers in Washington. A handful of congressional Democrats and some 2020 presidential candidates have said Congress should begin impeachment proceedings. But others have argued Congress should continue the investigations into the president’s businesses, taxes and conduct in office already underway in the House and Senate.
READ MORE: ‘What’s the end game here?’ Voters in this Virginia district divided over Mueller report
The divide has created a political tightrope for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill. Democratic presidential hopefuls are also in a bind, as they seek to build support with the party’s progressive base without alienating moderate voters, whose support is crucial in a general election.
“The further you go down the impeachment path at this point, the happier your Democratic base will be,” said Lee Miringoff, who directs the Marist Institute for Public Opinion.
According to the poll, 42 percent of voters would definitely vote against a candidate for Congress who wants to move to impeach Trump. In contrast, 38 percent said they would definitely vote for that candidate, and 20 percent said they were unsure.
President Donald Trump also faces his own hurdles to reelection, the PBS NewsHour-NPR-Marist poll shows. A majority of voters, 54 percent, said at the moment, they would definitely vote against the president in the 2020 election. In April 2011, at a similar point in President Barack Obama’s first term, 44 percent of voters said they would definitely vote against Obama, according to a Marist poll at that time.
Overall, a majority of Americans, 54 percent, approve of the way Mueller did his job; 57 percent said the special counsel’s investigation was “fair.” Trump’s message that Mueller’s investigation unfairly targeted him, a refrain that has continued after the report’s conclusion, does not appear to be resonating with a majority of Republican voters. Forty-seven percent of Republicans said they approved of the job Mueller did as special counsel, compared to 38 percent who disapproved.
As both Republicans and Democrats determine how to proceed, they could take a lesson from history about shifts in public opinion.
“One way or another, it’s going to take a lot more than the current Mueller report and interpretations of it to push things further,” said Robert Shapiro, a political science professor at Columbia University who studies public opinion.
Take public opinion trends during Watergate, Shapiro said. When the Watergate scandal broke in 1973, only 35 percent to 40 percent of Americans wanted to move forward with impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon. One year later, more than 70 percent thought Congress should begin impeachment proceedings against Nixon.
The new information about Watergate that emerged through various congressional investigations helped sway public opinion over time, Shapiro said. If Democrats uncover more information through their own investigations, public opinion could shift again, he added
On the other hand, if Democrats move too fast without public support, they run the risk of losing support with the public, something Republicans experienced during the Clinton impeachment saga. Republicans lost five House seats in the 1998 midterm elections. The results were widely seen as a rebuke of the GOP and a show of support for Clinton, given that the president’s party tends to see losses in midterms.
Lawmakers could also be giving too much weight to the Mueller report.
Fifty-three percent of voters in the poll said the report will not be a significant issue for them in the 2020 election. That includes 76 percent of Republicans, 35 percent of Democrats, and 50 percent of independents.
“There are a lot of issues that affect the country more directly that are more important when it comes to electing the president,” said Danielle Vinson, a politics professor at Furman University.
There is one area where Democrats, Republicans and independents agree, according to the poll. Sixty-eight percent of Americans think Congress has not done enough to ensure there is no Russian interference in the 2020 election — a large part of what sparked Mueller’s initial investigation. That includes 80 percent of Democrats, 62 percent of Republicans and 71 percent of independents.
The PBS NewsHour, NPR and Marist conducted a survey April 24-29, 2019 that polled 1,017 U.S. adults, with a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points. The survey included 840 registered voters with a margin of error of 4.1 percentage points.
Gretchen Frazee is a Senior Coordinating Broadcast Producer for the PBS NewsHour.
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