Half of all Americans want President Donald Trump impeached, according to an August 31 poll from The Washington Post and ABC News. Simply as an empirical statement about the current political moment in the United States, this is an extraordinary data point.
In modern history, never have so many Americans wanted to pursue such a radical, albeit constitutional, course of action against a president. The Post/ABC News poll found that 49 percent of the public wants the House of Representatives to launch impeachment proceedings against Trump, with 46 percent against. That 49 percent dwarfs the 29 percent who favored impeaching Democrat Bill Clinton in 1998, and it’s significantly higher than the 42 percent who supported impeaching Republican Richard Nixon in 1974.
But unless you were paying close attention over the Labor Day weekend, you wouldn’t have heard about this stunning news: It quickly disappeared from the media narrative of Trump’s presidency. Instead, we’ve heard ad nauseam about the New York Times op-ed by an anonymous Trump administration official and the resulting search for his or her identity; about Bob Woodward’s book Fear; and about Trump’s fury at both. These three developments were certainly newsworthy—but so is the fact that half of the American people apparently want the president impeached.
To ignore the support for impeachment is not merely a journalistic error; it has political consequences. In politics, when a big event occurs but the public is not told about it, the impact is muffled. In this case, the most obvious relevance is the November midterm elections, which could open a path to impeachment by giving Democrats majority control of the House. Indeed, in a clear warning sign for Republican prospects in November, the support for impeachment was not merely from horrified liberals and progressives. A staggering 49 percent of self-described independents favored impeachment, as did 15 percent of conservatives. (Nor can the Post/ABC poll be dismissed as an outlier; other surveys have also found higher than 40 percent support for impeachment.)
On the few occasions when major news outlets have discussed impeachment, “the not-so-subtle slant of their coverage…is that it would be a terrible idea,” wrote Robert Kuttner, the editor of The American Prospect. Kuttner quoted from a New York Times news article—not an opinion piece—that predicted pursuing impeachment “will inflame the Republican base and possibly hurt [Democrats’] chances of taking control of the House.” The Times story did note that many rank-and-file Democrats support impeachment; however, it portrayed this sentiment more as a problem for the Democratic Party leadership than as a phenomenon with its own worth. For news coverage to deprecate impeachment is all the more mistaken, Kuttner added, when “Trump keeps committing actions—in broad daylight—that are plainly impeachable,” such as urging the attorney general to protect Trump’s political allies while punishing his enemies.