President Donald Trump speaks at the American Farm Bureau Federation's convention in Austin, Texas, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020.
Photo: AP Photo/Susan Walsh
Photo: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

AJC poll: Georgians oppose ousting Trump at impeachment trial

A majority of Georgia voters oppose removing President Donald Trump from office as a result of impeachment, according to an exclusive Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released as a historic trial gets underway in the U.S. Senate.

The poll of 1,025 registered Georgia voters shows the state’s electorate remains divided over the Democratic-led push to impeach Trump, which enters a new phase of fraught debate and bitter legal wrangling as the Senate readies to hear testimony. Half of Georgia voters say the president has not committed an impeachable offense; 45% say he has.

But it found voters were far more settled about whether Trump should be sent packing at the trial’s end. About 57% of respondents said voters should decide his fate in the 2020 election, including a majority of independents and roughly one-quarter of Democrats.

“It’s a sham — a colossal waste of time,” said Michael Morris, an IT technician from Bonaire. “It’s a witch hunt trying to take the public’s attention away from more important things.”

>> Interactive: Complete poll results

>> Related: AJC poll: Voters back casinos and sports gambling in Georgia

>> Related: AJC poll: Trump job approval continues to lag among women, black voters

>> PDF: Poll crosstabs

>> More: AJC poll archive

Others are bracing for what’s poised to be an unpredictable — and potentially explosive — trial. Laurie Biehn, a Democrat who lives in Druid Hills, wants the Senate to consider all the evidence — including calling witnesses to testify, which is an uncertain prospect.

“I do not believe they should go in and shortchange the process,” she said. “They need to hear what witnesses have to say.”

The poll, conducted by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs, underscored the sharp degree of polarization around Trump and the complicated politics that’s shaped the public debate over whether he should be removed from office.

Though Trump is likely to be acquitted in the Republican-controlled Senate, Democrats hope to press their case to the American public about removing a president they say pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rivals in exchange for military assistance and a White House meeting.

The survey was conducted Jan. 6-15 and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

‘A joke’

Even as a divisive trial approached, the president’s fortunes appeared to steady in Georgia, a top 2020 battleground for Democrats hoping to capture the state for the first time since 1992. About 51% of voters approve of his job performance, including one-third of voters who say they “strongly” back him.

The last AJC poll, conducted in November, found about 54% of registered Georgia voters disapproved of his record while 44% approved.

Since that survey, UGA has made a change to its polling methodology to ensure the survey more closely reflects Georgia’s demographics, particularly when it comes to the level of education of poll respondents. That makes it more difficult to compare these findings with previous polls.

Trump’s base of support can’t get much more polarized: He has overwhelming backing from Republicans — 93% — and about the same proportion of Democrats disapprove of his performance since his 2016 election. Most independents — 56% — say he isn’t doing a good job.

A smaller number — 44% of all voters polled — say they “definitely” plan to vote for Trump in November, while 47% will “definitely” vote against him. About 8% didn’t know or wouldn’t answer.

Connie Peacock, a Grantville sales executive, epitomizes the divide over Trump. On the one hand, she said, the economy is strong and his foreign policy has given the U.S. more confidence. On the other, she added, his rhetoric and behavior conflict with how a leader should act.

“Some of his behavior is not presidential,” she said, “but as a whole, I do have a favorable opinion of the country under his leadership.”

To his critics, Trump remains a stain on the presidency. Natalie Steinborn, a Bremen retiree, described him as an “all-around-dirty guy.” And Ashley Bruce of Covington called him “mentally unstable” and said she believes he should be removed from office — but she also sees the impeachment trial as an exercise in futility.

“It’s a joke,” said Bruce, a patient care technician. “The Republicans know what’s he capable of doing and what he’s done. They’re going to back him just because he’s a Republican. The check and balance isn’t applying as it’s supposed to be.”

‘A chance’

Georgia Democrats are torn over the top potential contenders to replace him. About two-thirds of Democrats have favorable opinions of former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Another candidate, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., had a lower profile. About 41% of Democrats had a positive opinion of him, the lowest of the four candidates in the AJC survey. Roughly one-third of Democrats didn’t have an opinion or didn’t say.

And among African Americans, an all-important Democratic voting bloc in Georgia, only 28% had a favorable opinion of Buttigieg.

A year after his tight election victory, Gov. Brian Kemp is shoring up support. About 60% of registered voters approve of his job performance, including one-quarter who “strongly” support him. About 55% see him in a favorable light, a vast improvement from previous polls that showed him well under the halfway mark.

U.S. Sen. David Perdue, too, appears to be on solid footing as he runs for a second term in November. A slim majority of voters — 51% — approve of the former Fortune 500 executive’s job performance, while about 28% of voters disapprove. One-fifth of voters don’t know or won’t say.

The state’s other Senate race is murkier. Only one-quarter of Georgia voters have a favorable impression of new U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a Republican political newcomer tapped by Kemp for the seat in December. The ballot won’t be settled for some time. Two Democrats have already entered the race and more are expected. One or more Republicans could also join the field.

Roughly 20% of voters have an unfavorable impression of Loeffler, a wealthy former financial executive who was sworn into office two weeks ago, and 57% don’t have an opinion or didn’t answer. Some 60% of Republicans say the jury is still out.

“We have to give this lady a chance,” said Winder resident Greg Epperson, who counts himself among the voters who know little about Loeffler. “Just because President Trump wanted it, that doesn’t necessarily happen. That decision to make was Brian Kemp’s.”

The governor’s decision upset many grassroots conservatives who have encouraged U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, a Gainesville Republican whose profile has skyrocketed amid the impeachment trial, to challenge her in the special election.

The AJC poll suggests that Collins is no household name yet, even among Republicans in Georgia, despite his frequent appearances on TV as a staunch opponent to impeachment. About one-third of voters have a favorable opinion of him, nearly one-fifth have a dim view — and half don’t have an opinion or wouldn’t say.

Still, he is on steadier footing with Republicans, with 53% giving him a favorable review while only 6% have a negative impression of him. The rest are up in the air.

“He’s doing what he thinks is right,” said David Tootle, a cybersecurity analyst in Savannah. “If that means grabbing people by the lapels and ruffling feathers, that’s a good thing. That’s what makes the country so great.”

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Staff writers Mark Niesse and Maya T. Prabhu contributed to this article.