Culture Columnist - Books
Will the impeachment of the president in fact make him more popular in the 2020 elections?
About three months ago, in December 2019, Nancy Pelosi - Speaker of the United States House of Representatives – announced the impeachment of Donald Trump. This groundbreaking decision ignited a series of debates about the future of his presidency; but is it possible that the vote for Trump’s impeachment may in fact buy him another four years in office?
I feel confident in my assessment that Donald Trump is one of the most controversial American presidents. These controversies started a long time before his victory in 2016, but as the future of the United States became intertwined with his persona, the scale and significance of these controversies escalated. First came the cornerstone of his presidential campaign – to build a “great wall” between the US and Mexico and “Make America Great Again”. Next came the Russian interference which boosted his candidacy by harming that of Hilary Clinton. His presidency has been associated with sexism, xenophobia and anti-immigrant feelings. Numerous protests have been held against him, some of which called for his impeachment a long time before the House of Representatives made their decision. What finally tilted the scales against President Trump?
The House of Representatives charged Trump with two accusations: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. He tried to coerce the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, former U.S. vice president and probable Democratic Party candidate for 2020 presidential elections. His attempt to extort political favours from the Ukrainian government by withholding military aid was not only deemed unethical, but also posed a threat of another foreign influence on the American elections. This was the last straw for the House of Representatives, which saw impeachment as the best answer to Trump’s actions.
Impeachment is a procedure which allows a legislative body to level charges against a government official; it does not automatically remove said official from office but is rather a statement of charges against him or her. In the United States, this process is legitimised by Article One of the United States Constitution, which grants the House of Representatives “The Sole Power of Impeachment” on the basis of “Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanours”. The entire process of impeachment must be started by the House of Representatives, which constitutes half of the US Congress. For the procedure to pass, more than 50% of its members must vote in favour of impeaching the president. If it does, the Senate holds a trial during which senators, acting like a jury, decide whether or not a president is guilty. For this, a majority of at least 66% is needed.
So far, no US President has ever been removed from office, and only two other presidents – Bill Clinton in 1998 and Andrew Johnson in 1868 – have been impeached up to this day. Like some of the political debates have predicted, Trump was found innocent by the Senate and came out of the storm unscathed, if not stronger. Considering that the House of Representatives consists largely of members of the Democratic Party, and that the reason behind the impeachment was Trump’s attack on a Democratic candidate, the decision of the House could be considered a personal vendetta. Could it be that their attempt to destabilise Trump’s presidency is in fact going to hurt their own chance in the race for the presidential chair?
To shed some light on this situation, we should have a look at how Trump’s popularity ratings changed over the course of time after his impeachment. As the Gallup poll reported on February 4, 2020 (the day of the trial), “approval rating has risen to 49%, his highest in Gallup polling since he took office in 2017.” When looking at the chart illustrating these ratings over time, it seems clear that Trump’s popularity has been growing almost steadily from the moment of his impeachment. What is more important is the fact that impeachment seems to have convinced some of the people who didn’t have a particular opinion of Trump’s presidency to pick their side, causing the number of undecided voters to drop from 5% to 1%. Moreover, there has been a significant rise in the number of people who seem to be thinking that Trump deserves re-election – 50% now, jumping up from 41% during 2018 midterm elections. These statistics, and their correlation in time with Trump’s impeachment, seem to suggest that by taking a shot at the current president, Democrats have actually helped him to win more support. Of course, as Gallup polls suggest, there might be other explanations for this increase in support for Trump’s presidency, such as the recent military action in Iran or his foreign trade policy. However, a statement from the Gallup polls said: “If it is mostly impeachment-based, his approval rating may revert quickly back to pre-impeachment levels, as it did for Clinton. Within two months of his acquittal in February 1998, Clinton’s approval rating returned to where it was before he was impeached” .
Therefore, maybe not all is lost for the Democratic Party. If history repeats itself and Trump’s post-impeachment approval ratings drop back to pre-impeachment levels like they did in case of Clinton, Trump may lose the race for re-election. For now, however, approval ratings seem to support the idea that his impeachment may actually help him win.