Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly-ish polling roundup.
It's officially impeachment season again. On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced that he's directing three House committees to start investigating whether President Biden benefited from his son Hunter's business dealings in Ukraine. McCarthy accused the Biden family of "a culture of corruption," saying that the Biden administration gave Hunter "special treatment" in a criminal tax and gun investigation, and that Biden himself had lied about his knowledge of his son's financial dealings.
The good news for McCarthy and the right-wing supporters of an impeachment investigation is that Americans do seem to believe, overall, that Hunter Biden's foreign business dealings were sketchy at best and illegal at worst.
But Hunter Biden isn't the subject of the impeachment inquiry — his father is. So far, Republicans haven't provided any concrete evidence tying the president to his son's overseas business exchanges. The impeachment inquiry will allow House Republicans to obtain bank records and other financial documents from Biden and his son. Right now, Republicans are most firmly convinced that Biden is implicated in Hunter's wrongdoing, while Americans overall are more inclined to see former President Donald Trump's family as corrupt, compared to the Bidens. And there isn't a broad consensus that an impeachment inquiry is warranted, signaling that Republicans have a lot of convincing to do if they want the public to support their investigation.
Americans think Hunter Biden profited from his father's position
All of the allegations of a broader web of corruption within the Biden family have yet to be proven. What is less disputed, though, is the fact that Hunter Biden has personally made a significant amount of money through overseas business deals, and is the subject of a long-running criminal investigation. Earlier this summer, he agreed to plead guilty to two misdemeanor counts of failing to pay taxes on millions of dollars of income in 2017 and 2018, with an additional agreement that could allow him to avoid a conviction on a separate illegal gun ownership charge, but the plea deal fell apart after the judge, a Trump appointee, said she refused to "rubber-stamp" the agreement, which she said wasn't standard. Republicans accused the Biden administration of giving Hunter a "sweetheart" deal and in August, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel to continue probing Hunter Biden's finances.
None of this is a great look for the president's son, and recent polling shows that Americans are unhappy about Hunter Biden's behavior. A YouGov/The Economist poll conducted in August, after the plea deal collapsed, found that 72 percent of Americans think Hunter Biden personally profited from his father's positions in government, including a slim majority (53 percent) of Democrats. The same poll found that two-thirds (66 percent) of Americans have an unfavorable view of Hunter Biden, while only 17 percent have a favorable view (an additional 17 percent said they didn't know). According to a Yahoo News survey conducted by YouGov in August, 59 percent of Americans think Hunter Biden traded on his family name and proximity to power to get millions of dollars from foreign business associates. The same poll found that 51 percent of Americans believe that Hunter Biden improperly claimed tens of thousands of dollars in tax deductions. And an Ipsos/Politico Magazine poll conducted in August found, similarly, that 59 percent of Americans think that Hunter Biden is guilty of the alleged crimes in the tax non-payment case, including 51 percent of Democrats. Notably, only 2 percent of respondents said they thought he wasn't guilty, and 38 percent said they didn't know.
The YouGov/Economist poll's findings suggest, though, that Americans think most presidents' children get some level of special treatment. The survey found that 84 percent of respondents think children of U.S. presidents get away with things that other people do not because of their parents' jobs, and a similar share (85 percent) say that adult children personally profit from their parents' positions in government at least sometimes. So while Americans do seem convinced, overall, that Hunter Biden has profited financially from his father's jobs, and even a slim majority of Democrats think he likely committed crimes, the behavior may not be shocking or unexpected.
Republicans are more convinced that Biden is implicated in Hunter's wrongdoing
Republicans don't really have to convince Americans that Hunter Biden deserves investigation, or even a criminal trial. But that's not the question that matters for impeaching his father. To justify impeaching the president, Republicans will have to prove that he was involved in financial wrongdoing or corruption. And so far, Republicans are making claims without facts to back them up. When he announced the inquiry, McCarthy asserted — without evidence — that the millions Hunter Biden earned through overseas deals were also improperly shared with Biden family members, and that Biden used his official role as vice president to help get business for Hunter.
More findings that tie Biden and his family to Hunter Biden's business dealings could, of course, emerge. But right now, Americans haven't fully bought into the idea that the Biden family is involved in a broader influence-peddling scheme. Less than half (41 percent) of respondents in the Yahoo poll said they believe that Hunter Biden funneled millions of dollars to his father in a long-running scheme to help Joe Biden profit off his position, while 26 percent said they didn't believe it and 33 percent said they didn't know. A similar share (44 percent) believe that Biden definitely or probably did something illegal regarding Hunter Biden, while 32 percent believe he definitely or probably did not and 32 percent said they don't know.
Many Americans are not very tuned in to the allegations against the Bidens, which is probably why these questions result in such a high share of people who say they don't know. And another recent poll found a slightly higher share of people who say that even if Joe Biden didn't do something illegal, he may have acted unethically. According to an SSRS/CNN poll conducted in August, 61 percent of Americans agreed that Biden had at least some involvement in Hunter Biden's business dealings, although less than half (42 percent) said he acted illegally and 18 percent said he acted unethically but not illegally. Similarly, a Quinnipiac University poll conducted in September found that 35 percent of Americans thought Biden was involved and did something illegal in Hunter Biden's business dealings with Ukraine and China, while 14 percent think he was involved and did something unethical but not illegal, and 37 percent think he wasn't involved.
But as the table above shows, the people who really believe that the Biden family is corrupt are Republicans. Unsurprisingly, Democrats are much less convinced that the president did something wrong, and independents are also pretty divided. Of course, it's possible that more coverage of the allegations motivating the impeachment inquiry — and any concrete evidence that might get turned up along the way — could change people's minds, or at least persuade some of the ones who are undecided.
And notably, the Yahoo News survey found that while the share of Americans — including the share of Democrats — who think Hunter Biden did something illegal has increased since last fall, the share of respondents who think Joe Biden broke the law has remained functionally unchanged, despite a drumbeat of Republican accusations to the contrary. Polling by Beacon Research/Shaw & Co. Research for Fox News has found a similar trend: The share of Americans who think Hunter Biden did something illegal rose from 39 percent last December to 50 percent in August, but the share of Americans who think Joe Biden did something illegal related to his son's business dealings hasn't really moved. (The survey found it at 35 percent in December versus 38 percent in August.)
Americans aren't convinced impeachment is warranted
Perhaps most worryingly for Republicans, most Americans don't think an impeachment inquiry into Biden is warranted right now. A GBAO/Fabrizio, Lee & Associates poll for The Wall Street Journal conducted in late August found that 52 percent of Americans oppose impeaching Biden, and only 41 percent are in favor. More recently, a YouGov poll conducted on September 13 found that 41 percent of Americans oppose impeaching Biden, 44 percent are in support and 15 percent don't know. In early October 2019, when Trump's first impeachment was getting underway, Americans were more closely divided, according to our polling tracker. And in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, majorities of Americans supported Trump's impeachment; a slim majority of Americans even consistently supported removing Trump from office before the end of his term.
In fact, allegations of corruption are stickier when it comes to the Trump family than the Bidens. According to the Yahoo News survey, 46 percent of Americans think that Trump and his family are more corrupt than the Bidens, while 36 percent think the Bidens are more corrupt than the Trumps. And a recent AP-NORC poll found that Americans were more likely to describe Trump as "corrupt" than Biden. Meanwhile, that September YouGov poll found that Americans are more likely to describe the impeachment inquiry as motivated by politics in an attempt to embarrass Biden (41 percent) rather than a serious effort to find out the truth (28 percent).
That doesn't mean that Hunter Biden's legal troubles aren't a liability for Biden, particularly after a grand jury just indicted him on federal gun charges. A recent Emerson College poll found that while 47 of voters say that the indictments against Trump make them less likely to vote for him for president, 46 percent say the Hunter Biden tax and felony gun charges make them less likely to vote for Joe Biden in 2024. So it's possible that as Hunter Biden's investigation continues to unfold, his father could take political damage. But right now, Republicans aren't just missing evidence that Biden is connected to his son's wrongdoing in ways that could be impeachable — they also don't have the public on their side.
Other polling bites:
- Americans are concerned about aging political leaders, and a significant chunk want to see age limits for high-profile national politicians, according to a new poll from Civiqs for Daily Kos. The survey found that 74 percent want a mandatory retirement age for U.S. senators, 67 percent want a retirement age for Supreme Court justices, and 58 percent want a retirement age for presidents.
- After the Food & Drug Administration approved two new boosters for COVID-19, a CivicScience poll found that a majority (52 percent) of Americans said they're at least somewhat likely to get the new COVID vaccine, while 59 percent said they're at least somewhat likely to get a flu vaccine.
- Fertility treatments are getting more common — according to a newly released April poll from the Pew Research Center, 42 percent of adults say they have either gotten fertility treatments or know someone who has, up from 33 percent just five years ago.
According to FiveThirtyEight's presidential approval tracker,* 40.9 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 54.4 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -13.5 points). At this time last week, 40.0 percent approved and 56.0 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -16.0 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 40.8 percent and a disapproval rating of 54.5 percent, for a net approval rating of -13.8 points.
*As of 2 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, Sept. 14.
CORRECTION (Sept. 18, 2023, 11:20 a.m.): A previous version of this article stated that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy asserted, without evidence, that Hunter Biden shared some of the money he received through foreign deals with his family. In fact, there is evidence that Hunter Biden’s family members also received money through these deals, but in his announcement, McCarthy did not offer evidence that it was illegal or corrupt.