With the investigation into possible ties between Russia and the Donald Trump presidential campaign accelerating, and Trump himself firing FBI Director James Comey in a move that many on Capitol Hill have deemed an attempt to obstruct justice, talk of Trump’s impeachment has suddenly moved from the fringes of political debate into the mainstream. But what are the real chances that Trump could be impeached — or removed from office through some other legal means — before his first term is up?
Expert Lays Impeachment Odds: 538’s Nate Silver Reveals Chances That POTUS Will Not Last Through First Term
Political data expert Nate Silver, founder of the highly trafficked political and polling site FiveThirtyEight.com, became perhaps the first journalist to perform an in-depth study on the question of whether Trump will be impeached, and he published his results on the FiveThirtyEight site on Monday. But despite the 39-year-old Silver’s extensive research into data surrounding presidential impeachment, even he was unable to come up with an exact number representing the probability of impeachment — settling instead for a “range” of odds representing the chances that Trump will be removed from office by legal means prior to January 19, 2021, the final full day of his four-year term in office.
Read Silver’s full report revealing the odds that Trump will be impeached by visiting this link.
Only two, or 4.5 percent, of the 44 United States presidents prior to Trump have faced impeachment, a process outlined in the Constitution and designed to remove a president, vice-president or other “civil officer” from office in the event of “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
The first was Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, who faced impeachment in 1868. But the attempt to impeach Johnson fell one vote short of the required two-thirds vote in the Senate needed to convict a president and remove him from office.
Another 130 years would pass before a second president was impeached. That was Democrat Bill Clinton in 1998. This time, when the Senate voted in early 1999, the numbers fell well short of the two-thirds hurdle and Clinton remained in office to finish out his second term.
In 1974, congress was preparing to begin impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon as a result of the Watergate scandal, but Nixon resigned the presidency rather than face the humiliation of removal by impeachment — becoming the only president ever to leave office without finishing a term for any reason other than death.
Silver, however, is not the first to come up with odds on the impeachment of Trump. Legal bookmakers have been taking odds on impeachment for weeks, and those odds rise significantly after Trump fired Comey on May 9 — because the firing appeared to give impeachment advocates a clear reason to file articles of impeachment against Trump, whose campaign remains under investigation by the FBI for suspected collusion with Russia.
The British bookmaker Ladbrokes has calculated a 55.6 percent probability that Trump will not last out his first term, while the Irish betting firm Paddy Power puts those chances at a whopping 60 percent. U.S. legal bookmakers are prohibited from taking bets on political events and therefore have not laid odds on Trump’s impeachment.
Silver, however, does not see Trump’s impeachment chances as anywhere near as high as the two overseas bookmakers. The primary factors that Silver examined in coming up with his numbers — the factors that he says, historically, offer the best predictors of whether a presidential be removed from office.
- Approval ratings: Trump’s nationwide approval rating stands at a disastrous and historically low 38.8 percent after just 123 days in office, according to the FiveThiryEight average of all polls. But as Silver notes, Trump’s approval rating remains relatively healthy, hovering around 50 percent, in many “red” states with Republican senators who would, as a result, face no political pressure to vote against Trump in a Senate impeachment. With Republicans holding 52 Senate seats, 15 Republican votes would be needed to reach the two-thirds requirement of 67.
- The Generic Ballot: The “generic ballot” refers to polling that simply asks whether voters plan to support Republican or Democratic candidates in an upcoming election, without naming specific candidates. According to polling averages compiled by Real Clear Politics, Democrats now hold a commanding seven-point generic ballot lead in the 2018 congressional midterm elections.
- Special Elections: Are members of the president’s party winning special elections to fill vacant congressional seats? Democrats have so far performed well in the few special elections held since Trump’s inauguration, and polls show Democrat Jon Ossoff tied with his Republican opponent in the heavily Republican Georgia Congressional District Six.
So what does it all mean for the chances of Trump’s impeachment? Silver says that he cannot pin down an exact number, but he would be “comfortable” with any percentage between 25 percent in favor of Trump’s impeachment — in other words, 3-1 odds against — or even money, 50-50 either way. In other words, Trump’s opponents hoping to see him impeached face a tough, uphill battle.
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