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Is impeachment bad for Dems? Another data point.
Back in March, I took a look at what little data there was that could test the conventional wisdom that discussion of impeachment was "bad" for Democrats. The data in question was the 2004 election results from Nevada, whose Democratic Party had included in its statewide platform a plank calling for impeachment.
The results, you may recall, were a net gain in seats in the state legislature, and increased Democratic performance in every Congressional District in the state.
Not rock solid proof that impeachment helps Dems at the polls, of course. But a solid data point in refuting the stab-in-the-dark guess -- and that's all it is -- that impeachment hurts them.
Bottom line: the "I-word" was in the platform, the people voted, and Dems suffered not at all. And while you could argue that almost nobody pays attention to the platform, and thus the voters were largely unaware of that plank's existence, that doesn't save the argument. The claim was that any discussion of impeachment hurts Dems. Here, the best that can be said is that such a discussion didn't even raise an eyebrow.
Now, though, there may be something more to add to the picture. New SurveyUSA numbers are out on state-by-state approval/disapproval of Bush, and for the most part, they reveal very little that's new. On the whole, the people who approved of Bush last month still do, and vice versa.
But one particular nugget that jumped out at Philip Baruth of Vermont Daily Briefing also caught my eye: Vermonters now report the lowest approval of the preznit (25%) of any state in the nation. That's no surprise in itself, of course. But it might strike a chord with you if you were aware of the fact that that distinction used to belong to the people of Rhode Island, by a margin of about three points over Vermont back in January, when I started paying some attention to those numbers.
And the reason I started watching those numbers, of course, was that I was determined to take a semi-scientific approach to the experiment of seeing if a state legislature could be coaxed into taking up the Congress's slack, and passing a resolution calling for impeachment, under the procedure described in Jefferson's Manual, Section LIII, 603. I began casting around for the right combination of circumstances: abysmal approval ratings of Bush, strong Democratic majorities in both houses of the state legislature, activist citizenry, etc. Vermont fit the bill perfectly. Small in size, with an intimate political culture, it wasn't long after I proposed that the experiment be carried out there that Vermonters (and ex-Vermonters) leapt forward to pick up the ball.
Just over three weeks from the date I first promoted the idea at Daily Kos (after having seen it discussed by others there, and elsewhere), one of the Vermont activists who'd stepped up to accept the challenge succeeded in passing through the Rutland County Democratic Committee the first resolution in the country of which I'm aware, urging the exercise of the Jefferson's Manual procedure.
From there, the county-based approach snowballed, prompting special meetings of the committees in 13 of Vermont's 14 counties, and culminating in the passage of a modified impeachment resolution by the State Democratic Committee on April 8th, a mere 40 days from the passage of the Rutland resolution, and less than two months from my proposition at Daily Kos.
Concurrent with the efforts of the county committees, of course, were the town meetings across the state which took up the issue of impeachment independently, the most widely-reported of which was that in the town of Newfane, which in early March passed a resolution championed by Selectman Dan DeWalt. Five other towns joined Newfane that day, with several others, both inside of Vermont and out, following their example in the days and weeks that followed.
The effort was enormously encouraging to watch, and in a roundabout way did ultimately result in the introduction in the Vermont legislature of a resolution seeking to trigger the Jefferson's Manual procedure, though the legislature adjourned before taking it up for consideration.
So much for a recounting of the successes in Vermont. What have they to do with the Survey USA numbers?
Well, let's start by taking a look at the numbers from Rhode Island, which originally claimed the mantle of the state least hospitable for Bush. The mid-January numbers -- the most recent then available at the time this project kicked off -- showed a truly horrible 29/68 approve/disapprove measurement. Since then, the mid-month numbers have fluctuated a bit: in February they were 25/72; in March, 28/70; April, 24/74; May, 23/75; and in June, 27/71. All told, not much significant movement, though you'll perhaps notice a small peak in disapproval (accompanied by a small trough in approval) across the mid-month measurements from April and May.
Turning to Massachusetts, which occupied what we'll call "third place" back in January (by virtue of its slightly lower disapproval ratings in that month), we see something a little different. Slight fluctuations in the numbers, but with a marked upward trend in disapproval, and complementary downturn in approval, moving from 32/64 in January, to 26/73 today.
And what of Vermont? An even steadier trend, moving from 32/65 in January to 25/74 today. That's a full seven point drop in approval, and nine points (a full 10 last month) growth in disapproval.
What might this mean? Well, it might mean that the impeachment discussion has been having some impact, which is about what you'd expect, though you might not have guessed the numbers would have moved quite so much if the only factor you were considering was "discussion."
But there's discussion, and then there's discussion. In Rhode Island, impeachment never really caught fire the way it did in Vermont, despite its claim to "first place" back in January. There is, however, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Senate by the name of Carl Sheeler, who has made impeachment a central tenet of his decidedly underdog campaign, even going so far as to post a billboard along I-95 announcing his intentions. As it happens, it was across the period from mid-month April to mid-month May that Sheeler made his biggest push on the issue, in advance of the Rhode Island Democratic convention. And while he's continued his crusade, he's had to do so without the platform afforded even a longshot challenger for the nomination, that honor having been awareded in mid-May to Sheldon Whitehouse.
In Massachusetts, results were mixed. Though there were a goodly number of impeachment resolutions taken up -- in Cambridge, in Brookline, in Wales, in Northampton, etc. -- there was no methodical process of consideration and passage by county Democratic organizations as there was in Vermont. So there was discussion, and the discussion did generate secondary discussion in the news media, but not on the scale we saw in Vermont. And if you're looking to make a connection, as I am, you'll see reflected in the disapproval trendlines a noticeable difference. The approval trendline, though, has remained stagnant at 26% for some time.
And Vermont? Well, in Vermont, of course, we saw sustained action for impeachment, debating the issue week after week after week, as each county committee took it up and reported its results. And when the State Committee agreed to schedule its special meeting to consider the resolutions percolating up from the counties, the story got fresh legs. By the time the meeting actually rolled around, there was a conflict brewing just below the surface between an insurgent rank-and-file who very strongly supported not just impeachment, but the Jefferson's Manual procedure, and certain higher-ups who variously either opposed the whole thing, or at least hoped to avoid sending the issue to the legislature. That camp? Mostly legislators. Go figure.
But the conflict was good for the issue. It kept it in the papers, albeit as a grassroots-versus-leadership story. And so it ought not to be surprising that in Vermont we see not only a strong upward trend in disapproval, but also something pretty close to a constant downward trend (minus a 1-point uptick in June) in approval, as opposed to the stagnation evident in Massachusetts.
It's really pretty intuitive. A sustained debate on the merits of impeachment, methodically conducted county-by-county, especially in a state already hostile to Bush, can contribute to a measurable upsurge in disapproval and a corresponding drop in approval.
There remains, of course, the question of whether or not hurting Bush can help Dems. This year's elections are mid-terms. Bush won't be on the ballot. But then again, there's been some considerable investment in painting Congressional Republicans as "rubber stamps." And that begs the question, "rubber stamps" for whom? For Bush, of course. And so the question becomes how driving the trend toward lower approval and higher disapproval of Bush "hurts Dems."