Polls show Americans have come to support Trump's impeachment much faster than Nixon's or Clinton’s

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For the first time, a majority of Americans said this week that they supported the impeachment of President Trump. Not just in one, outlying poll — in an average of all current national polls compiled by the data journalists at FiveThirtyEight.

For Trump this polling milestone comes less than one month after reports first surfaced of a Ukraine whistleblower and roughly three weeks after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the start of a formal impeachment inquiry — meaning that it represents a historical milestone as well.

Trump hasn’t just crossed the 50 percent threshold on impeachment, peaking at 50.3 percent earlier this week. He’s gotten there faster than Richard Nixon — and, for that matter, Bill Clinton, who never got there at all.

Let’s rewind. From start to finish, the Watergate scandal took more than two years to unfold. The break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters occurred in June 1972; Nixon was reelected that November; the burglars’ trial began in January 1973; top White House aides resigned in April; a special prosecutor was appointed in May; the Saturday Night Massacre went down in October; formal impeachment proceedings began in May 1974; the House Judiciary Committee passed articles of impeachment in July; and Nixon resigned in August.

But for the vast majority of that time, public support never passed the 50 percent mark. In June 1973, right after the Senate Watergate Committee launched televised hearings, only 19 percent of Americans told Gallup that Nixon should be impeached and removed from office. By November, after the Saturday Night Massacre, that number had ticked up to 38 percent. But it wasn’t until August of the following yearafter articles of impeachment had been approved and after the Supreme Court forced Nixon to release the transcript of a “smoking gun” tape that showed he had helped orchestrate the cover-up — that a majority of Americans came around to the view that he should be impeached and removed.

In other words, if you start the clock with the Senate hearings, it took 14 months for Nixon to get where Trump has gotten in one. Start with formal impeachment proceedings — which began three months before support for Nixon’s impeachment breached 50 percent — and Trump still outpaces his ignominious predecessor by some distance.

The contest with Clinton, meanwhile, isn’t even close. In early 1998, Clinton denied that he’d had a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, both publicly and in a sworn deposition; in August he admitted that he’d lied; in September independent counsel Kenneth Starr released a report accusing Clinton of committing perjury and trying to influence witnesses to hide the affair; in October the House Judiciary Committee launched a formal impeachment inquiry; in December the House approved two articles of impeachment against Clinton; and in February 1999 the Senate rejected both articles, acquitting the president.

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The House Ways and Means Committee hearing room, the largest hearing room in the House, is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, will use this room to hold the first public session in its probe of whether President Donald Trump violated his oath of office by coercing Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and his family. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
US career diplomat Christopher Anderson arrives to review his testimony as part of the House Impeachment inquiries on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on November 7, 2019. - The first open impeachment hearings into US President Donald Trump will begin next week, US House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff said November 6, 2019, as the investigation heads into a highly anticipated public phase. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
Vote Tallies are displayed as House members vote on a resolution on impeachment procedure to move forward into the next phase of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump, in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. The resolution passed 232-196. The resolution will authorize the next stage of impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, including establishing the format for open hearings, giving the House Committee on the Judiciary the final recommendation on impeachment, and allowing President Trump and his lawyers to attend events and question witnesses. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 31: U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi delivers remarks at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on October 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. Later today The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry centered on U.S. President Donald Trump. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 31: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) (C), speaks during a news conference after the close of a vote by the U.S. House of Representatives on a resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry centered on U.S. President Donald Trump October 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. The resolution, passed by a vote of 232-196, creates the legal framework for public hearings, procedures for the White House to respond to evidence and the process for consideration of future articles of impeachment by the full House of Representatives. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 31: U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on October 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Sha Hanting/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images)
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaks during her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, October 31, 2019. - On October 30, the House Rules Committee agreed by a party line vote to put the impeachment resolution up for approval before the full House of Representatives on October 31. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 31: (L-R) House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Oversight and Government Reform Committee Acting Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY) hold a news conference following the passage of a resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry centered on U.S. President Donald Trump October 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. The resolution, passed by a vote of 232-196, creates the legal framework for public hearings, procedures for the White House to respond to evidence and the process for consideration of future articles of impeachment by the full House of Representatives. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 31: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) presides over a vote by the U.S. House of Representatives on a resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry centered on U.S. President Donald Trump October 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. The resolution, passed by a vote of 232-196, creates the legal framework for public hearings, procedures for the White House to respond to evidence and the process for consideration of future articles of impeachment by the full House of Representatives. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Vote Tallies are displayed as House members vote on a resolution on impeachment procedure to move forward into the next phase of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump, in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. The resolution passed 232-196. The resolution will authorize the next stage of impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, including establishing the format for open hearings, giving the House Committee on the Judiciary the final recommendation on impeachment, and allowing President Trump and his lawyers to attend events and question witnesses. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
White House Russia expert Timothy Morrison arrives for a deposition for the House Impeachment inquiries at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, October 31, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 31: Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., speaks during a news conference with other Republicans on Capitol Hill on Thursday Oct. 31, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Diplomat added significant ballast to the allegation Trump was trying to extort Ukraine into ginning up bad news about Biden. The impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump has heard some extraordinary testimony over the last month. From the first mention of Trump’s desired “deliverable” from Ukraine, successive layers of witnesses and documents have added to an indictment of the president’s conduct that only gets heavier, as Trump howls his defenses to the wind. On Tuesday, things got even worse for Trump – much worse, as many saw it. For almost 10 hours, William Taylor, a former military officer and career diplomat with the rank of ambassador under the last four presidents, spoke with congressional investigators about how the Trump administration has been conducting a two-track foreign policy in Ukraine, where Taylor is in charge of the US embassy. We don’t yet know most of what was said. The current public record of the closed-door testimony comprises only a copy of Taylor’s 15-page opening statement – and the spectacle of the ashen faces of members of Congress as they filed out from the hearing. “This testimony is a sea change,” congressman Stephen Lynch told reporters. In his testimony, Taylor explained his discovery of an “irregular, informal policy channel” by which the Trump administration was pursuing objectives in Ukraine “running contrary to the goals of longstanding US policy”. What the “informal channel” wanted – and briefly obtained, Taylor said – was for the Ukrainian president to agree to go on CNN to announce an investigation of Joe Biden, whom Trump sees, perhaps mistakenly, as a top 2020 threat. The Trump administration held up “much-needed military assistance” to Ukraine in an effort to extract the Ukrainian statement, Taylor said. “More Ukrainians would undoubtedly die without the US assistance,” he noted. In a process scrambled so far by misleading Trump tweets and relying in part on anonymous witnesses, the testimony of Taylor, a Vietnam veteran respected in both parties with 50 years of public service behind him, landed as a potential game-changer. It was just the kind of testimony that seemed to answer even the most stubborn demands of Trump loyalists such as Senator Lindsey Graham for additional, definitive proof that Trump was turning the broad power of his office to his own narrow devices. “If you could show me that, you know, Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing,” Graham said at the weekend. The senator denied in a Fox News appearance Tuesday that Taylor had delivered such evidence. But Taylor added significant ballast to the allegation that Trump was attempting to extort Ukraine into ginning up bad news about Biden. What Taylor added was a careful stitchwork of detail, describing who was working to extort the Ukrainians, how they were going about it, how their aims clashed with stated US policy, how the Ukrainians responded, and what people said to him about it at the time. Taylor made clear he has the memos and other records to back up his story. And he exposed the slapstick clumsiness of the Trump flunkies working the “informal channel” – notably Gordon Sondland, the hotelier and Trump mega-donor turned ambassador. “Ambassador Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman,” Taylor testified. “When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check.” But “the explanation made no sense”, Taylor argued. “The Ukrainians did not ‘owe’ President Trump anything, and holding up security assistance for domestic political gain was ‘crazy’.” Reaction to Taylor’s testimony generally fell between shock and dumbfoundedness. “I cannot overstate how damaging this Ambassador Taylor testimony is to Trump,” tweeted Neal Katyal, the former acting solicitor general. “Taylor’s statement is a completely devastating document,” wrote Susan Hennessey, the executive director of the Lawfare site. “I know they will find a way but it’s just impossible to imagine how Republicans in Congress will be able to defend this. It is well beyond what most assumed was the worst-case scenario.” The White House issued a statement Tuesday night impugning Taylor, a Trump appointee, as part of a cadre of “radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the constitution”. But the taller the evidence against him, the smaller Trump’s protests seemed. Democratic senator Amy Klobuchar, a presidential candidate, challenged Republicans to take a stand. “After Diplomat Taylor’s testimony you can no longer question whether this happened,” she tweeted. “The question is if you choose to follow the law or be part of the cover-up.” Trump huddled Tuesday night with members of his legal team, the Wall Street Journal reported, and he urged congressional Republicans to do more to rebut the impeachment inquiry. But there were reportedly no talking points, and no one knew quite what they were supposed to say, or whom to take that direction from. Notably absent from the meeting of Trump’s advisors was Rudy Giuliani, whom Taylor describes as running the shadow operation in Ukraine. “The official foreign policy of the United States was undercut by the irregular efforts led by Mr Giuliani,” Taylor said. He described a seemingly free hand for Giuliani, whose foreign clients include or have included Ukraine-based antagonists of current and former US officials, to open and close diplomatic channels and to direct US policy as he pleased. One of the weightiest impacts of Taylor’s testimony might have to do with the senior US officials it names. Taylor took his concerns about Trump’s alleged attempt to extort Ukraine, he said, to both national security adviser John Bolton and to secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Bolton, who has since resigned, reacted with outrage and frustration. Pompeo, who is eyeing a US Senate bid in his home state of Kansas, apparently greeted Taylor’s warning with silence. “This is not the story of corruption in Ukraine,” tweeted the political strategist David Axelrod. “It’s the story of corruption at the highest levels of the US government. It’s the story of extortion, with US military aid to a besieged ally held hostage to the president’s personal political project.” Trump’s critics say the story is plain: that the president twisted the immense powers of his office to personal ends, in betrayal of constitution and country. When it comes time to prove it, Taylor’s testimony is likely to be front and center.
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 31: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks during a news conference with other Republicans on Capitol Hill on Thursday Oct. 31, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
ARCHIVO - En esta foto de archivo del 30 de noviembre de 2018, la entonces embajadora de EEUU en Ucrania, Marie L. Yovanovitch, habla en Kiev. Yovanovich declara el viernes 11 de octubre de 2019 ante las comisiones del Congreso que investigan al presidente Donald Trump antes de posiblemente iniciarle juicio político. (AP Foto/Efrem Lukatsky)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 17: Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, arrives to the Capitol for his deposition as part of the House's impeachment inquiry on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - October 22: The acting Ambassador to Ukraine, William B. Taylor, Jr., departs after meeting with the House Intelligence committee for their impeachment inquiry, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Ambassador William Taylor is escorted by U.S. Capitol Police as he arrives to testify before House committees as part of the Democrats' impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Former White House advisor on Russia, Fiona Hill, center, leaves Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Oct. 14, 2019, after testifying before congressional lawmakers as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, center, arrives on Capitol Hill, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019, in Washington, as she is scheduled to testify before congressional lawmakers on Friday as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
FILE - In this March 6, 2019 file photo, then U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, center, sits during her meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev, Ukraine. (Mikhail Palinchak, Presidential Press Service Pool Photo via AP)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the House impeachment investigation during a formal signing ceremony for the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement at the White House in Washington, October 7, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Adam Schiff (D-CA), Chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence Committee speaks to the media before a closed-door meeting regarding the ongoing impeachment inquiry against US President Donald Trump at the US Capitol October 8, 2019 in Washington,DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams, of Utah, addresses the media at Midvale Senior Citizens Center Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, in Midvale, Utah. McAdams is changing his position to support the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. He said Friday he has not made a decision on whether the president should be impeached, but he supports investigating what he calls serious allegations. McAdams was previously one of a small handful of undecided House Democrats. He says he changed his mind because the Trump administration is unlikely to cooperate with an investigation unless it's conducted as an impeachment inquiry. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Staunch Trump ally Sen. Chuck Grassley pushes back against calls to out whistleblower
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., listens as Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., and other House Democrats discuss H.R. 1, the For the People Act, which passed in the House but is being held up in the Senate, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks to reporters after the Trump administration blocked U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland from giving testimony in the House of Representatives' impeachment investigation of Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 8, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 01: Tourists make photographs inside the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol on October 01, 2019 in Washington, DC. Under the leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the House of Representatives has opened an impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump following revelation that a whistleblower filed a complaint that Trump was seeking damaging information about a political opponent from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 30 : President Donald J. Trump talks to reporters about the whistleblower after participating in a ceremonial Swearing-In of the Secretary of Labor Gene Scalia in the Oval Office at the White House on Monday, Sept 30, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
KIEV, UKRAINE - OCTOBER 01: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to the media on October 1, 2019 in Kiev, Ukraine. Ukraine has been at the core of a political storm in U.S. politics since the release of a whistleblower's complaint suggesting U.S. President Donald Trump, at the expense of U.S. foreign policy, pressured Ukraine to investigate Trump's rival, Joe Biden, and Biden's son, Hunter. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 31: Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., walks by protesters outside the Capitol after the House vote on an impeachment inquiry resolution on Thursday, October 31, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
(COMBO) This combination of pictures created on September 24, 2019 shows US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, on September 24, 2019 and US President Donald Trump in Washington, DC, September 20, 2019. - Amid mounting allegations of abuse of power by the US President, Pelosi announced the start of a formal impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives, the first step in a process that could ultimately lead to Trump's removal from office. (Photos by Mandel NGAN and SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN,SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., reads a statement announcing a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., steps away from a podium after reading a statement announcing a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
U.S. President Donald Trump reacts to audience applause after his address to the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to address the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
WASHINGTON, DC - September 24: Surrounded by journalists, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff (D-CA) emerges from a meeting with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, before the delivers a speech concerning a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Tuesday September 24, 2019. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Members of the White House press corps - holding in the Trump Bar at Trump Tower - watch U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) live on television as she announces an impeachment investigation of U.S. President Donald Trump in New York City, New York, U.S. September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump ATTENDS a bilateral meeting with Iraq's President Barham Salih on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks to news reporters following an impeachment proceeding announcement, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) walks through a House corridor following an Impeachment Proceeding announcement, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL.) speaks to news reporters following an Impeachment Proceeding announcement, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 1125 -- Pictured: Host Jimmy Fallon as Donald Trump during the "Trump U.N. Speech" Cold Open on September 24, 2019 -- (Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Protesters with "Kremlin Annex" call to impeach President Donald Trump in Lafayette Square Park in front of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., announced a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks to the media in response to an announcement by Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) at the Capitol Building September 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry today after allegations that President Donald Trump sought to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate leading Democratic presidential contender, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, which was the subject of a reported whistle-blower complaint that the Trump administration has withheld from Congress. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) walks with her press secretary, Connor Joseph, to a House Democratic caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol where formal impeachment proceedings against U.S. President Donald Trump were announced by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi September 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. Spanberger is one of seven freshman members of the House with national intelligence or military backgrounds who recently spoke out in an opinion piece calling for an investigation of Trump. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Reporters and congressional staff members wait outside a House Democratic caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol where formal impeachment proceedings against U.S. President Donald Trump were announced by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi September 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry after allegations that President Donald Trump sought to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate leading Democratic presidential contender, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, which was the subject of a reported whistle-blower complaint that the Trump administration has withheld from Congress. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 24: Reporters crowd around Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., as he leaves the House Democrats caucus meeting in the Capitol on impeachment of President Trump on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 24: Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, arrives for the House Democrats caucus meeting in the Capitol on impeachment of President Trump on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Protesters with Kremlin Annex with a light sign that reads "NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW" call to impeach President Donald Trump in Lafayette Square Park in front of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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Throughout that entire process, however, public sentiment barely budged: Polls consistently showed that only a quarter to a third of Americans favored Clinton’s impeachment. The highest that number ever got — retrospectively, in late 1999 — was 44 percent, which is still 5 to 6 percentage points lower than Trump’s number today.

Not all impeachments, of course, are created equal. Some, like Clinton’s, come to be seen as partisan. Others, like Nixon’s, come to be seen as justified.

So far the polling suggests that America is more inclined to see Trump’s impeachment as justified than partisan. To be sure, 2019 is not 1998 or 1974. Pollsters ask the impeachment question in different ways, so direct comparisons are difficult. There are several forces at work today that almost guarantee his impeachment will take a different path than Clinton’s or Nixon’s. America is far more polarized than it was decades ago, and Trump is far more polarizing than any of his predecessors.

This cuts both ways. The president’s approval rating has been stuck between 38 and 42 percent since March 2017, and a majority of Americans have disapproved of his job performance since then as well. In contrast, Clinton enjoyed approval ratings in the 60 to 70 percent range the entire time Republicans were trying to impeach him, and Nixon’s fluctuated wildly, falling from a high of 68 percent in January 1973 to a low of about 25 percent for most of the last year of his presidency. In a less tribal time, voters were much more willing to break with their party, either to back a president they believed was being unfairly persecuted or to oppose a president who clearly deserved impeachment. That’s no longer the case, and while such polarization helps keep Trump broadly unpopular, it also helps inoculate him against mass GOP defections. Trump’s brazenness — the way he openly asks Ukraine and China to investigate his political rivals, for instance — also serves to blunt some of the impact of new revelations.

Even so, crossing the 50 percent threshold on impeachment in record time — even if the FiveThirtyEight average has since dipped just below the 50 percent mark — still carries serious risks.

Impeachment is by definition a political process, and politics is driven by public opinion. Public opinion, in turn, will have a greater effect on Trump’s impeachment than on any prior impeachment, for the simple fact that it will be the only impeachment in U.S. history to unfold on the eve of a presidential election year.

To survive impeachment and win a second term, Trump needs to keep his party united. But senators and House members want to win reelection too, and they’ll be watching the polls as closely as the pundits. If Nixon’s impeachment proved anything, it’s that new evidence can emerge suddenly, changing everything. The facts matter. In 1974, congressional Republicans had backed Nixon uniformly for more than a year — until the smoking gun surfaced. And then they didn’t.

Is that likely to happen again? No. But the more impeachment gains in the polls, the less improbable it becomes.

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