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Taking America's Temperature On The Impeachment Inquiry


And this is Washington, D.C., the epicenter of all this, so that made us wonder just how engaged Americans really are with the impeachment inquiry. So we've called up Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which often partners with NPR for polling.

Lee Miringoff, thanks so much for joining us.

LEE MIRINGOFF: My pleasure, Michel.

MARTIN: Well, as you heard, a few of the people we talked to - in fact, a number of the people we talked to - did not have questions about the impeachment inquiry or really had not been following it closely. So what have you found? I mean, in the polling data, do people say they're following this, paying attention to the impeachment inquiry?

MIRINGOFF: Well, you know, we're seeing in our national polls, you know, slightly under a third of the people around the country, which is not what you'd call off the charts. It means there's some intense Democrats and partisan Republicans who are following it. The numbers have actually declined since a poll we conducted - a similar poll in September. So there was a drop from September to October. We're soon going to be tracking it again to see if there's any resuscitation in those numbers. But right now, it's really not the kind of grabber that perhaps some folks closer to the capital would think.

MARTIN: And what do people say about whether they approve of the inquiry?

MIRINGOFF: Well, here we are. We have a lot of different opinions right now which haven't crystallized. So some people think it's been a distraction from more important issues. There's the presidential campaign going on. That's showing an unusually high level of interest, both on the Democratic and Republican sides.

And so, right now, we have sort of this whole impeachment talk, which is distracting from that. I think also - and some of your folks that you interviewed alluded to this - you know, this has been so far pretty much behind closed doors, so the public is only kind of getting the political spin on the evening news. They're seeing some Democrats come out and say this is horrible, Republicans calling it a hoax. So they're getting a lot of spin, but they're not getting the actual, you know, substance of it.

And I think also, you know, there's some other element to this, which is kind of like it's sort of like a whodunit, except the public kind of has a hunch where this all ends up or what the answer is about who done it. So there's no real intrigue. It's not a page-turner right now. So I think there's a lot of different attitudes which haven't really crystallized into one thing. That may change when, you know, the investigation goes public.

MARTIN: I was going to ask about that because the House is set to start open hearings this coming week. Do we have any sense of what effect that may have on the public's attitude about all of this?

MIRINGOFF: Well, I think it may actually change it. I think it's, you know, going to, you know, provide a more visual component to it. You know, I think, you know, everybody goes back to Watergate in discussing this. And if you do go back to where - it took the hearings that were, you know, public and open and, you know, seen to kind of get - slowly galvanize interest. It just didn't happen overnight.

Although, you know, we know how it started. We know how it ended. And there's - you know, history suggests maybe it went a little quicker than we think, but it didn't. And this has actually been moving rather quickly relative to that. But I expect that, you know, starting on Monday with the public hearings that there'll be more of a attention element to this.

But we're a little different right now because back in Watergate, people were kind of, like, weighing the evidence. Here, people are kind of rooting for their side. In other words, if you're a Democrat, you think the president's guilty and should be removed. And if you're a Republican, you pretty much have already decided that this is just a hoax and more of the same distraction. So it's not like the jury is waiting to come up with a final verdict here. I think people are just rooting for their side more than anything else, and so it's going to take a real revelation to move people off their positions where they are currently.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, does the polling indicate whether people understand what the facts are and have an opinion about what the facts are? Because what the Democrats are saying is this is a grave matter. This is a matter that speaks to, you know, fundamental principles of the rule of law and a fundamental abuse of authority and that it must be addressed whether it's politically convenient or not.

Those Republicans who have been willing to speak have said that they just don't think it is that. They don't think it's that serious a matter. For example, the president's acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, was, like - this is just the way it is, deal with it was his point of view, and...


MARTIN: ...Suggesting that it just isn't a serious matter. And I just wonder, do we have any sense from the polling of whether Americans on the whole have a point of view about the seriousness of the allegations? Like, if the facts are as alleged, do they think that matters?

MIRINGOFF: Yeah. And I think it is the old case of where you stand depends upon where you sit, and so you're right. This is a very different time period and a very polarized one, which doesn't work well in the context of a presidential election that's going on that this could, you know, become a major distraction from, which is something people really care about. They care about the issues of health care and education and the environment. I mean, that's what people are connected to right now. And this does seem like it's moving attention on a daily basis in a different direction.

So, you know, it's - the onus is on the Democrats to make it relevant, and the Republicans, who up to this point have been somewhat successful in making it seem not as relevant to people as the Democrats would like. That may change this coming week, though. It does have an impact when people are seeing the testimony and getting a sense of who the cast of characters are. And it's certainly more dramatic that way.

MARTIN: That was Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion.

Lee Miringoff, thanks so much for talking to us.

MIRINGOFF: My pleasure, Michel.

MARTIN: So we went out on the streets of Washington. Now we'd like to hear from you. What are your questions about the impeachment inquiry? Ask about anything on your mind. Maybe you want to know if there are rules for the process or what they are or how this might affect your daily life - anything. It takes just a few minutes. We'll have an expert answer some of your questions on the air. To share your questions, find us on Twitter @npratc or visit NPR ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on Facebook.

(SOUNDBITE OF L'INDECIS' "SOULFUL (ORIGINAL MIX)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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