Americans are sharply divided along party lines about whether President Donald Trump should be removed from office, and they doubt the Senate impeachment trial will do anything to change their minds, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Overall, the public is slightly more likely to say the Senate should convict and remove Trump from office than to say it should not, 45% to 40%. But a sizable percentage, 14%, say they don’t know enough to have an opinion.
Americans on both sides of the debate say they feel strongly about their positions, and three-quarters say it’s not very likely or not at all likely that the trial will introduce new information that would change their minds.
Linda Valenzuela, 46, of Las Cruces, New Mexico, leans Democrat and said she is certain that Trump acted unlawfully in pressuring Ukraine's leader, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate activities by former Vice President Joe Biden, a Trump political rival, and his son Hunter in the Eastern European nation.
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But Valenzuela also said that it is "not at all likely" that she will hear anything from Trump’s defense team during the trial that would change her mind about the president.
"I know what he did was not legal," she said.
Similarly, Jackie Perry, 59, a Republican from Carrollton, Georgia, said that she was certain that Trump had acted within the law. She said she could not envision her position on Trump changing because of evidence or testimony presented in the trial.
Perry, who cast her first-ever ballot in the presidential election in 2016 for Trump, said her opinion of the president is shaped by how he’s handled the economy. The national unemployment rate is 3.5% and has been hovering near a 50-year-low for months.
"This is a person who has helped our country, I think, more than any president has," Perry said. "He’s done so much for us. Our economy is flourishing again for the first time in many years. There are ‘help wanted’ signs everywhere you go now. Our country is getting back up again. That to me is the important thing."
About 8 in 10 Republicans think the Senate should not convict and remove Trump from office, compared with roughly the same share of Democrats who say Trump should be convicted and removed. Overall, confidence in the Senate to conduct a fair trial of the president is limited, though Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say it will be a fair trial.
A slim majority of Republicans think Trump has done nothing wrong in his interactions with Ukraine's president, though that share has declined slightly from an AP-NORC poll in October — 64% then compared with 54% now. Roughly another third now think Trump did something unethical but not illegal, while just about 1 in 10 thinks he did something illegal.
By comparison, roughly three-quarters of Democrats say Trump did something illegal in his interactions with Zelensky
Democrats brought articles of impeachment against Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress for actions related to his decision to temporarily withhold nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine last year. Democrats contend that move was made to push Zelensky to target Hunter Biden for criminal investigation. The younger Biden had served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. Officials in Ukraine have said they have found no wrongdoing in Hunter Biden’s service on the board.
To Chester Trahan, Trump has "used the United States government’s mechanism for his own personal benefit as opposed to benefit of the United States of America." The 80-year-old Democrat from Palm Coast, Florida, added: "He has more or less blackmailed an ally to get something he wants."
Trump's approval rating has remained within the narrow range it has consistently occupied throughout his presidency. The new poll shows 41% approve of his performance, similar to what it was in December and throughout the fall.
About half of Americans think Trump’s administration is cooperating too little with the trial, while about 4 in 10 think the level of cooperation is about right.
"Everything that the Democrats have done has been without basis or merit," said Robert Feller, 67, a Republican from Millville, New Jersey. He said he approves of the level of cooperation offered by the administration.
Democrats "are on a fishing expedition," he said. "It feels like they started with a guilty verdict and are in search of a crime."
One question there’s widespread agreement on: Trump should allow top aides to appear as witnesses at the trial. About 7 in 10 said so, including majorities of Republicans and Democrats.
Trump repeated Wednesday that he would like to have his top advisers testify, but said it could create national security concerns. Jay Sekulow, a Trump personal attorney serving on his impeachment team, argues that Trump’s communications with his advisers are privileged information.
"The administration is not cooperating at all," said Andrew Collins, 31, Democratic-leaning resident of Gainesville, Florida. He said Trump "should be mandated have his aides appear as witnesses. What kind of world do we live in that we can’t hear from witnesses to a crime?"
Perry, the Republican Trump supporter from Georgia, said she, too, thought that top advisers should testify but for a different reason: They hold the keys to exonerating the president.
"The people who are close to him, work with him on a daily basis, they know what he’s about and what he’s trying to do for the country," Perry said. "I do think they should be able to testify. They’ll get up there and say he did nothing wrong."
Who's Who in the Trump-Ukraine Affair
President Donald Trump faces a formal impeachment inquiry led in the Democratic-controlled House after he asked the newly elected Ukrainian president to investigate one of his chief political rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Credit: Noreen O'Donnell, Nelson Hsu, Nina Lin/NBC
The AP-NORC poll of 1,353 adults was conducted Jan. 16-21 using a sample drawn from NORC's probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.6 percentage points. Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods and later were interviewed online or by phone.