NBC/WSJ poll: Country remains divided over Trump's impeachment trial

Majorities of Americans believe the president abused his power and obstructed Congress but split over whether it was enough to remove him.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks during a visit to auto-manufacturing supplier Dana Incorporated, on Jan. 30, 2020 in Warren, Mich.Brittany Greeson / Getty Images

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By Mark Murray

WASHINGTON — Majorities of American voters believe that President Donald Trump abused his power and obstructed Congress in the Ukraine scandal, but the public remains split — largely along party lines — over whether those actions justify his removal from office.

Those are the findings of a new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released as the U.S. Senate continues its impeachment trial of Trump, with Republicans on the verge of acquitting the president in the GOP-controlled chamber after voting against allowing witnesses.

The survey also finds Trump trailing the major Democratic presidential candidates in hypothetical matchups for the general election, and it shows how stable the president’s standing has been during the entire impeachment episode.

“We’ve been through an impeachment inquiry in the House, a trial in the Senate, and America’s attitudes about Donald Trump have hardly budged,” said Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates, who conducted this survey with Republicans pollsters at Public Opinion Strategies.

“Same as it always was,” added Democratic pollster Peter Hart.

In the poll, 46 percent of registered voters say Trump should be removed from office as a result of the impeachment trial, versus 49 percent who say he should remain — essentially unchanged from the 48 percent-to-48 percent split in December’s NBC/WSJ poll.

Democratic voters overwhelmingly support Trump’s removal from office (84 percent), while Republicans overwhelmingly oppose it (91 percent). Independents are divided, with 45 percent backing removal and 50 percent opposing it.

“Necessary,” “justified” and “warranted” were some of the top Democratic answers when respondents were asked which one word best describes how they feel about Trump’s impeachment trial.

The top Republican responses: “Ridiculous,” “wasteful” and “sham.”

Still, a majority of voters — 52 percent — say they believe Trump abused the power of his office by asking a foreign government to investigate a political opponent to influence the upcoming election, compared with 41 percent who disagree.

And another majority of voters — 53 percent — believe the president obstructed Congress by not cooperating with the impeachment investigation and by directing government employees not to comply with subpoenas.

Just 37 percent say he did not obstruct Congress.

Yet once again, there’s a partisan split to these numbers, with nine-in-10 Democrats believing Trump abused his power and obstructed Congress, versus 70 to 80 percent of Republicans disagreeing.

“Public opinion looks like it did from the start: It was a hung jury then and it is a hung jury now,” said Horwitt, the Democratic pollster.

And 39 percent of voters say the U.S. Senate has enough information needed to make a decision about Trump’s fate; 37 percent say they need to hear from additional witnesses to reach a decision; and 22 percent don’t know enough to say.

Trump trails top Democrats

Looking ahead to the 2020 general election that’s still more than 270 days away, the NBC/WSJ poll shows former Vice President Joe Biden leading Trump nationally by 6 points among registered voters, 50 percent to 44 percent — though that’s down from Biden’s 9-point advantage in October.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is ahead of Trump by 4 points, 49 percent to 45 percent — a drop from Sanders’ 7-point lead in July.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., holds a 3-point advantage over Trump, 48 percent to 45 percent, and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg leads Trump by 1 point, 46 percent to 45 percent.

The margin of error in the poll is plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.

When the poll narrows the matchup to include only respondents from 11 battleground states — Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — Biden’s lead over Trump is 5 points, 49 percent to 44 percent.

Sanders’ advantage in those states is 3 points (49 percent to 46 percent), and Warren and Buttigieg hold 1-point deficits to Trump (Trump 49 percent, Warren 48 percent; Trump 47 percent, Buttigieg 46 percent).

When it comes to the battle for control of Congress in 2020, Democrats enjoy a 6-point advantage in the poll, with 49 percent of voters preferring a Democratic-controlled Congress and 43 percent wanting Republicans in charge.

Democrats held a 7-point lead in December.

Intensity of Trump’s support increases

Also in the poll, 46 percent of voters approve of President Trump’s job performance, which is consistent with the other NBC/WSJ polls over the past year and a half.

But other numbers in the survey — his “strong” job approval ticking up to its all-time high, his positive rating jumping to its highest level since after his inauguration — prompts GOP pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies to call this Trump’s best NBC/WSJ poll in three years.

Still, 49 percent of all voters say they are “very uncomfortable” about Trump when it comes to his re-election bid in 2020.

That’s compared with 43 percent who are “very uncomfortable” with Sanders, 36 percent with Warren and 35 percent with Biden.

Capitalism versus socialism

Finally, the NBC/WSJ poll finds differing public attitudes about capitalism and socialism, especially with Sanders running for president in 2020 as a democratic socialist.

Fifty-two percent of all voters say they have a positive view of capitalism, versus 18 percent who have a negative opinion.

The numbers are reversed for socialism, with 53 percent having a negative view and 19 percent a positive one.

Yet there’s a striking difference by party and age.

Democratic primary voters have a net-positive impression of socialism (40 percent positive, 23 percent negative), and Dem voters ages 18-34 view it even more favorably (51 percent to 14 percent).

But key general-election groups like independents (-45 net rating), suburban voters and swing-state voters have a much more negative impression of socialism.

The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll was conducted Jan. 26-29 of 1,000 registered voters — more than half of whom were reached by cell phone — and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.

CORRECTION (Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020 10:20 a.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated a key polling result. Trump leads Warren and Buttigieg by 1 percentage point in the 11 battleground states; they do not lead him by 1 point in those states.