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Despite an impending impeachment trial and a controversial move to kill a powerful Iranian military general, the partisan divides that have defined President Donald Trump’s tenure remain seemingly unmoved. When it comes to Trump’s approval rating, whether he should be removed from office, or if he has done a good job of handling Iran, Republicans and Democrats are falling along party lines, according to the latest PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll.
With the House of Representatives preparing to vote to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate on Wednesday, Americans are split evenly about whether or not the Senate should remove Trump from office. An equal share — 47 percent — either support the U.S. Senate removing Trump from office, or oppose ousting him. An additional 6 percent of respondents said they were unsure.
Chart by Megan McGrew/PBS NewsHour
Public opinion has been locked in place for months. In October, 48 percent of Americans said they supported the Senate removing Trump from office and another 48 percent did not support such actions. Two months later in December, 46 percent of Americans supported Trump’s removal and 49 percent opposed it.
“There’s not a lot of movement” in public opinion about the fate of Trump’s presidency, said Lee Miringoff, who directs the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. Dynamic day-to-day news about global tensions and impeachment are “reinforcing” people’s existing opinions about Trump, further hardening divisions.
On Dec. 18, the House voted to impeach Trump over abuse of power and obstruction of Congress tied to his dealings with Ukraine, making him the third president in U.S. history to carry that distinction. This week, the Senate is expected to start trial proceedings against Trump, who said lawmakers should dismiss his impeachment case without a trial.
Despite the historic implications of impeachment and possible ramifications for American democracy, this is “a Washington story,” said Democratic strategist Jennifer Holdsworth.
Democratic candidates campaigning to be the next president plan to steer clear of impeachment while on the trail, Holdsworth said, because for voters, the topic pales in importance to issues such as health care, education and cost of living. The nation is “deeply, deeply divided,” she said, and candidates will try to respond by pitching plans to unify the country during upcoming Democratic presidential debates, caucuses in Iowa and primaries in New Hampshire.
Some contenders cannot avoid impeachment, as the senate rules state that all senators, including 2020 candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Bernie Sanders, must be sworn in as jurors for the trial.
On Jan. 3, a drone was used to kill Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani at Baghdad International Airport. Trump defended the targeted killing of Soleimani, saying the U.S. “saved a lot of lives” and that “they were planning something.”
Critics pushed back on those remarks and said there was scant evidence that Soleimani and Iran planned any specific attacks, and that the White House had not been sufficiently transparent with Congress about its plans under the War Powers Act. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the killing of Soleimani “endangered our servicemembers, diplomats and others by risking a serious escalation of tensions with Iran.”
House Democrats drafted new war powers legislation to limit the president’s military authority against Iran, which passed with virtually no Republican votes.
In the days since Soleimani’s death, the number of Americans who disapprove of how Trump has handled U.S. relations with Iran is slightly higher than those who approve, the poll suggests. Forty-nine percent of U.S. adults said they did not support Trump’s handling of Iran, while 42 percent of Americans said they did support him. Another 9 percent of respondents said they were not sure.
Beneath those numbers, a partisan divide quickly emerges, with 84 percent of Democrats, 49 percent of independents, and just 6 percent of Republicans disapproving of the president’s Iran moves.
Since his inauguration, Trump’s job approval numbers have hovered in roughly the same place — between the mid-30s and mid-40s, according to Marist’s polling data going back to February 2017.
Right on target, the latest poll finds 41 percent of Americans saying they approve of what Trump has done in office, while 53 percent say they disapprove. Those opinions are once again aligned with partisan politics, with 89 percent of Republicans saying they support Trump as president and 89 percent of Democrats saying they do not.
In recent years, those partisan differences have worn away the ties that once bound Americans together during national tragedies, conservative strategist Rick Wilson said. A future national emergency could push the nation to the brink, he said, because “the divisions are so deep and the anger so profound, both sides are going to be so unwilling to work with each other.”
Everything in public life is now a partisan test, with both sides focused on figuring out whose side won, “no matter what the consequential underpinnings are,” Wilson said. “We’ve become so mired in partisan outcomes, there’s no national interest anymore.”
PBS NewsHour, NPR and Marist conducted a survey Jan. 7-12 that polled 1,259 U.S. adults with a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points and 1,064 registered voters with a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points.
Laura Santhanam is the Data Producer for the PBS NewsHour. Follow @LauraSanthanam
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