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How The Polls Have Differed Between Trump's 1st And 2nd Impeachment Trials

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

So that is how the trial has been playing out today. For some analysis on what impact it's having, particularly on Republicans, let's bring in Whit Ayres, long-time Republican pollster, political consultant. He's advised GOP senators over the years.

Whit Ayres, welcome back.

WHIT AYRES: Hello, Mary Louise. How are you?

KELLY: I am hanging in there. Thank you. So we've got a number of polls out these last few days, polls from major news organizations. What are they saying about Republican support or lack thereof for impeachment? Is there any movement?

AYRES: Well, overall support for conviction among all voters today is somewhat higher than it was in the first impeachment trial a year ago because the circumstances are completely different. But Republican opposition to conviction has hardly budged. Republicans are overwhelmingly opposed. The latest polling shows no more than 9 to 10% of Republican voters supporting conviction for former President Trump and fully 87 to 88% are opposed. So Republican voters are who Republican senators are listening to as much as, if not more than, the evidence presented in the trial.

KELLY: Now, we'll note these polls were taken before the trial opened yesterday. Democrats, even by the acknowledgement of Republicans, have presented some pretty compelling arguments. There was that 13-minute tape yesterday, which was something. How do you rate the chances that anything that comes out in this trial might sway Republican voters or their Republican senators listening to them?

AYRES: Mary Louise, the House impeachment managers are making a very compelling case. But we need to remember that impeachment is a political process, not a judicial proceeding, as evidenced by the fact that the presiding officer in the Senate trial, Senator Leahy, is also a witness and he gets to vote on the outcome. So it should not be a surprise that senators are approaching this process as elected officials rather than as judges appointed for life.

KELLY: What did it take then for Senator Bill Cassidy, Louisiana Republican, to change his previous vote about whether the impeachment proceeding was constitutional?

AYRES: The House impeachment managers made a very compelling case to him that impeachment of a president who was no longer in office is constitutional. And the Trump lawyers made a very weak case. And he was persuaded. But he was the only one, apparently, who was persuaded enough to change his vote on that particular issue. The Trump attorneys have a very weak hand to play, which is part of the reason why there were so many attorneys who declined to take up the case for former President Trump.

KELLY: There's been some reporting today that Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is advising his members to vote their conscience. How do you read that and what kind of impact that might have?

AYRES: It's the same thing that Kevin McCarthy told Republican members of the House about the impeachment vote, that this was a vote of conscience. This is a vote for history. And you should not be compelled to vote according to the way the rest of the senators are voting. So it's a very appropriate thing to do, I think, for a vote of this import and this much historical significance.

KELLY: Do you think there's any chance we will see a vote to convict from McConnell himself?

AYRES: I really don't know the answer to that.

KELLY: It doesn't sound like you're holding your breath, though.

AYRES: Senator McConnell plays his cards very close to the vest. And I wouldn't presume to know how Senator McConnell is going to vote.

KELLY: Yeah. And again, though, I mean, you're saying you think this is the right thing to do, that this is a proper thing to do. But why put it out there if you're also saying this is all politics?

AYRES: Because this is a vote that will be remembered by history, and each individual senator needs to make up his or her own mind with that in mind.

KELLY: Last question. We just have a few seconds left. We talk a lot about what the party might eventually look like post-Trump. What do you think it's going to look like post-impeachment, the Republican Party?

AYRES: I doubt that it will look very different than it does today post-impeachment. How it looks like post-Trump 18 months from now remains to be seen. I have no idea.

KELLY: That is Republican pollster Whit Ayres. He has worked with a number of GOP senators over the years. He is founder and president of North Star Opinion Research.

We thank you for your time. Good to speak with you.

AYRES: Good to be with you, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.