By Max Dehon
On February 5, 2020, President Trump was acquitted by the Senate after being tried on two articles of impeachment. This came after nearly half a year of press coverage related to impeachment which seemed to fracture our already polarized political realm. Whether President Trump should be removed from office was even more polarized than his approval ratings, as nationally, 84% of Democrats supported him being removed compared to only 9% of Republicans (538). This difference is astounding, especially considering that 538 also reported that overall 47.6% of Americans supported his removal from office. 127 not only gathered the student body’s opinions on whether President Trump should be removed from office, but also tested how knowledgeable Denisonians were on the issue. How did Denison students feel compared to the rest of the United States?
On the March 2020 survey, 127 asked the student body to rate on a scale of 1-100, where 0 is strongly disagree and 100 is strongly agree, how strongly did they feel that President Trump should be impeached by the Senate? Overall, the Denison average was 67.5. Unsurprisingly, students who identified as being a Democrat felt strongly that the President should be removed from office. Likewise, students who identified as being a Republican had much lower levels of support for removing the President from office. Notably, the strength of partisanship correlated with how strongly they felt. For example, students who identified as “Strong Democrat” had higher levels than “Democrat” and “Lean Democrat.” This can be seen with students who identified as Republican, as the more Republican they identified as, the less the supported Impeachment. This further shows the polarization of partisan politics and how it can be directly seen within the student body’s support for impeachment.
Denison University prides itself at keeping students well-versed with current events and allowing students to foster their own beliefs and opinions, as this is a keystone element of a Liberal Arts education. With impeachment discussion being the focal point of nationwide news outlets for the majority of the four months prior to our February 2020 survey, we wanted to measure the campus’ understanding of the impeachment proceedings. Students were asked, “Why were articles of impeachment brought against President Donald Trump?,” and could choose as many of the 5 listed answers as they wished. Overall, about 80% of the Denison Student Body picked at least one correct response (36% picked both correctly). Almost three-quarters (70%) of the Student Body knew that President Trump soliciting election assistance from Ukraine was one of the grounds for impeachment. However, less than half of the Student Body knew the second ground for Impeachment, that he obstructed the investigation in the House of Representatives.
Overall, the student body was able to correctly identify that President Trump was accused of soliciting election assistance from a foreign state. This makes sense, as this was the most publicized accusation during the proceedings. However, a large number of the Student Body incorrectly picked three separate reasons, including 15% that his buying the silence of porn star Stormy Daniels was a reason for impeachment. With these mixed results, does this fact show us that the Denison Student Body was well informed during the impeachment proceedings?
Most all student respondents knew the primary accusation against Trump, which is quite gratifying. But I suspect that many students also used this opportunity to air some other grievances against the President. That hunch finds some support in these data since Democrats averaged picking 2.3 reasons, independents 2, and Republicans closer to 1.5. This is a common problem with such factual survey questions – attitudes often motivate responses to what are supposed to be factual knowledge questions. One experiment found that small payments for correct answers sharply reduced these partisan biases. It may not be that we’re misinformed, it’s that we don’t want others to know the truth.
Max Dehon is a senior Political Science Major from Kansas City and is a now retired member of the Big Red Baseball team. After finishing this semester on Google Meet, he will be attending Law School this fall.