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Impeachment Meta-Thoughts

The website Five Thirty Eight has been gathering presidential approval ratings since the day the site was launched more than a decade ago. Since March of this year they've also been tracking Americans' support for impeachment proceedings against the current occupant of that office. Until news broke of the Ukraine scandal, a majority of the public opposed impeachment, but as the details of the scandal emerged, support for hearings has inched up. This support topped out at just over 50% on October 14-15, but has remained a plurality since September 29.

As of November 13, the first day of public hearings, 48.5% supported the hearings and 45.6% opposed them. Today, one week into public hearings, we see a slight decrease both in support (47.9%) and opposition (45.4%). Is this just noise, or are people really starting to reevaluate their opinions based on new information? This is a trend worth watching.

Also worth watching is the breakdown by party—not because partisans are going against their party lines, in either party, but because the breakdown also includes independents. And for the last week, support among independents has been trending downward, from a 45.4% on the first day of hearings to 43.6% today. This trend, too, is worth watching.

Of course, public perception will not sway the outcome of the hearings, nor will the facts uncovered in the hearings change anyone's mind. The Congressional representatives, partisans one and all, have likely already made up their minds. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives will vote to impeach, then the Republican-controlled Senate will vote to acquit, and our nation's toxic partisanship will continue through election day.

But it's worth watching the trend line of independents' support for the impeachment, because approximately 7% of all voters have not made up their minds about whether the president has committed an impeachable crime. And, among independents, some who already have an opinion could potentially be convinced otherwise. And these are the voters who will determine the winners in November. If the Republicans appear to be supporting unethical or illegal behavior by the president,  they will be punished at the polling booths. If, on the other hand, the Democrats appear to have overplayed their hand, they will be seeing red on election day.

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