Poll: 69% want Senate to call witnesses at impeachment trial, including plurality of Republicans

That’s a big number. It’s conspicuously bigger, in fact, than it was just a few weeks ago in two other polls. In early January FiveThirtyEight found the public split 57/39 in favor of calling new witnesses whereas YouGov had it at 52/21.

Today, if you believe CNN, support for witnesses is knocking on the door of 70 percent. What changed?

It’s not just Democrats who are in favor either, although it’s mostly Democrats:

Even among Republicans it’s 48/44, which I assume is a combination of earnest interest in hearing all relevant evidence from the likes of John Bolton plus enthusiasm about Trump being able to present his own case by calling witnesses like Hunter Biden.

But however you slice it, there’s no way the Collins contingent in the Senate is going to resist 69 percent polling on this issue. Their goal is to make the trial look as fair as possible so that their eventual “not guilty” votes look as legitimate as possible. If the public wants witnesses at a nearly three-to-one clip then it’s a done deal for Republicans. They’ll have to call Bolton and Biden at a minimum.

As with any single poll, the CNN data could be fluky, especially given the noticeably lower levels of support at FiveThirtyEight and YouGov. But there are reasons to believe interest in calling witnesses really might have grown over the past three weeks. One is that people are paying more attention as the trial approaches, with some casual followers of the Ukraine saga possibly having better acquainted themselves with the facts and now newly curious about what Bolton and Biden might say. Another is the announcement from Bolton himself on January 6 that he’ll testify in the Senate if subpoenaed. Until that point some Americans might have been ambivalent about calling new witnesses, believing that Trump’s inner circle couldn’t be compelled to show up and give evidence. Once Bolton told them otherwise the question was suddenly no longer academic. Public interest understandably might have spiked.

On top of that, maybe Lev Parnas’s whirlwind media tour has made an impression. He’s told anti-Trumpers virtually everything they could have wanted to hear. Maybe some left-leaning independents who were disengaged from impeachment have perked up at news of an eleventh-hour witness who may or may not have the goods on the president. Naturally they’d want Parnas on the stand as well.

Perhaps not coincidentally, support for impeaching and removing Trump from office has risen to 51/45 in this poll, the highest figure posted in a CNN survey since they started asking the question in June 2018. A month ago the public split 45/47 on the question. Moving from plurality opposition to majority support in a matter of a few weeks is big news; since Parnas has been the only figure coughing up new information about the Ukraine business, I can only assume it’s a reaction to the coverage of him. Or it could be an outlier, of course — the last two national polls on removal taken before this showed the public leaning against it (by one point and five points) and the RCP average remains ever so slightly tilted against removal. In two weeks or three weeks we’ll measure against that baseline to see how the trial ended up playing to viewers at home.

Speaking of which, here’s a little good news for the GOP. The result when people were asked by CNN whether they thought Senate Republicans were likely to give Trump a fair trial:

Independents are giving Collins, Gardner, and the rest of the party the benefit of the doubt for now on whether they’re taking this seriously. That’s a perfect example of why there’s no appetite in the chamber outside of the Josh Hawley contingent for a motion to dismiss the articles at the outset. Republicans don’t want to squander the perception that they’ll be fair.

On the other hand, here’s what happened when CNN asked people if they thought Democrats were demanding new witnesses because they sincerely believe that’s what’s required in a fair trial or because they suspect those witnesses will end up damaging Republicans next fall. Dems are getting the benefit of the doubt too:

To some extent those results may reflect people’s own beliefs about the importance of new witnesses. If you’re an independent who thinks the trial won’t be fair unless the Senate hears from Bolton then maybe you’re also inclined to believe that that’s why Democrats want to hear from him too. That’s yet another reason for Collins et al. to want to call a witness or two. If this data reflects what Americans think is required for the trial to be “fair” then that’s what the GOP will be stuck doing in order to maximize the likelihood that Trump’s acquittal will be greeted as a just outcome.

There’s one more bit of good news for Trump and the GOP buried in the data:

A clear majority of the people who seem most likely to turn out next fall are pro-Trump. A strong majority of the people who seem least likely to do so are anti. How does that shake out for Democrats in the battlegrounds?

Exit quotation from Rudy Giuliani: “I’d love to be a witness — because I’m a potential witness in the trial — and explain to everyone the corruption that I found in Ukraine, that far out-surpasses any I’ve ever seen before, involving Joe Biden and a lot of other Democrats.” Hmmm!

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