Most Americans say they understand what impeachment is, but fewer than a third can actually define it correctly

Getty Images/Chris KleponisPresident Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump.
  • The majority of Americans surveyed in a new INSIDER poll did not understand how impeachment works.
  • Fifty-four per cent of respondents said they generally or thoroughly know what impeachment is, but just 30% correctly defined the term.
  • The data comes as top House Democrats conduct hearings and investigations to drum up public support for President Donald Trump’s impeachment.
  • Lawmakers began debating the possibility after the former special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report in the Russia investigation was released to the public.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The majority of respondents surveyed in a new INSIDER poll don’t know what it means when an official is impeached.

Roughly 30% of respondents correctly defined the term or its implications, saying impeachment means an official is essentially indicted by the House of Representatives, triggering a trial in the Senate.

Nine per cent said the outcome of impeachment is nonbinding and that the final outcome is up to the Senate.

Five per cent of respondents said impeachment means the House formally censures an official; 13% said it means an official is formally censured and removed from office; 7% said that criminal proceedings against a person begin once they are impeached; 28% said they didn’t know, and 6% said none of the options define impeachment correctly.

Fifty-four per cent of respondents said they either generally or thoroughly understand how impeachment works, even though overall only 30% correctly defined the term.

Indeed, specifically looking at that group of respondents who were most assured of their impeachment-process prowess – those who said they generally or thoroughly understood impeachment – 60% in fact did not know and got it wrong.

The survey of American adults, conducted from June 8 to 9 through SurveyMonkey Audience, comes as the Democratic-led House of Representatives grapples with whether to launch impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump following the release of the former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Read more:
House Oversight Committee holds Attorney General Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress

As part of his investigation, Mueller examined whether members of the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government to tilt the race in his favour, and whether Trump sought to obstruct justice after then-FBI Director James Comey publicly confirmed the investigation’s existence in March 2017.

Mueller did not find sufficient evidence to bring a criminal-conspiracy charge against Trump or anyone associated with his campaign. On obstruction, the former special counsel declined to make a “traditional prosecutorial judgment,” citing Justice Department guidelines that say a sitting president cannot be indicted.

But prosecutors laid out an extensive road map of evidence against Trump and emphasised that their report did not exonerate him, adding that if they had confidence that the president did not commit a crime, they would have said so.

Mueller’s team also said he didn’t believe he was authorised to charge Trump because the constitutional remedy for formally accusing a sitting president of wrongdoing lies with Congress, referring to impeachment proceedings. He added, moreover, that a president is not shielded from criminal prosecution once he leaves office.

Read more:
Nancy Pelosi is reportedly pushing back on impeachment because she wants ‘to see Trump in prison’ instead

The report prompted significant infighting among Democrats, with more progressive lawmakers calling for impeachment proceedings, while senior leaders such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi say they want to investigate Trump fully and drum up public support for the move before considering impeachment.

Pelosi also indicated that she wants to leave open the possibility for Trump to be prosecuted if he’s voted out of office during the 2020 election.

Her reported remark came during a meeting with top Democrats last week to discuss the impeachment debate.

Sources told Politico Pelosi made the comment – which represents some of her strongest language yet against Trump – after butting heads with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler about starting an impeachment inquiry into the president.

Nadler has pushed Pelosi to allow his committee to formally launch an impeachment inquiry once before, and he pressed the issue again at the meeting, but Pelosi is said to have shot him down.

“I don’t want to see him impeached, I want to see him in prison,” Pelosi said, according to Politico.

SurveyMonkey Audience polls from a national sample balanced by census data of age and gender. Respondents are incentivized to complete surveys through charitable contributions. Generally speaking, digital polling tends to skew toward people with access to the internet. SurveyMonkey Audience doesn’t try to weight its sample based on race or income. Total 1,126 respondents collected June 7 to June 8 2019, a margin of error plus or minus 3.07 percentage points with a 95% confidence level.

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