If an elected official is found to have violated the law or abused the powers, is impeachment earned or should the verdict be handed over to voters?
As part of our podcast, Impeachment, Explained Vox collaborated with PerryUndem and Ipsos in a survey where Americans' perception of when presidential behavior is impossible, when it is simply wrong, and how partisanship shapes these perceptions. The results were fascinating and unnecessary.
Yes, Americans believe in impeachment power; 71 percent say we need a way to remove a politician who breaks the law or abuses power from office. That includes 83 percent of Democrats, 69 percent of independents ̵
There is a consensus: If the president broke the law or abused power, impeachment deserves. And that is true even if the president's name is Donald Trump.
But then we drilled deeper. What counts as a "high crime or offense"? Trump often lies. Counting dishonesty? Surprisingly, majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents say it should.
How about abusing your political profit office? Here the numbers grow even larger. Eighty percent said yes, including two-thirds of Republicans.
How about abusing your office to enrich yourself? Eighty-eight percent said yes, including 82 percent of Republicans.
These are huge majorities, reflecting a rare instance of national agreement. If a president abuses his powers for personal or political gain, it is a high crime and wrongdoing.
But everyone who looks at this process knows that we do not see a rare example of national agreement. So then we became specific: Do you think the US president is pushing another country to investigate a political rival is a high crime and wrongdoing? Is it just morally wrong? Or is it just politics as usual, something that presidents do all the time?
50 percent of Americans say it is a high crime and wrongdoing. That's 77 percent of Democrats, 52 percent of independents, but only 22 percent of Republicans.
65 percent say it is morally wrong. There are vast majority of Democrats and independents – 89 percent and 74 percent, respectively – but only 39 percent of Republicans.
Forty-four percent of the country, however, says the president is pushing other countries to investigate their domestic political rivals all the time. This belief, at least right now, is highly concentrated among Republicans – nearly two-thirds of Republicans see Trump's behavior as typical political maneuvering.
So this is how Republicans seem to be working on Trump's work. Originally, the argument was that he didn't. The whistle was low. There was no quid pro quo. That defense collapsed quickly and completely under the White House, releasing its conversation and testimony from the best officials.
So now the argument has mutated: Yes, Trump did, but it's good that he did. Pressing a foreign government to investigate your main domestic political rival is not wrong, and even if it is wrong, everyone does.
It is the level of cynicism that Trump is forcing his supporters to embrace. It's not quite, as Nixon famously said, "when the president does, it means it's not illegal." It's closer: when the president does, it means it's normal.
The scary thing about it is that it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the Republican Party chooses to treat what Trump has done as normal and protect him from consequences or sanctions, it may be normal. Maybe it will be just one tactic, another power that the existing one can use against threats.
We do not get the political system we deserve. We get the political system we accept.
The survey was conducted November 5-6, 2019. About 1,000 adults – 425 Republicans, 394 Democrats and 104 independents – from the continental United States, Alaska and Hawaii were interviewed online in English.