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Is Trump really just a 17% chance to be impeached?

August 8th, 2019

Graphic – Recent YouGov polling on impeaching Trump

Impeachment is a legal procedure, with an indictment delivered by the House and a trial conducted by the Senate. But, assuming that there is a plausible yet arguable case for it, the procedure naturally resolves itself into a political process like any other.

To recap, impeachment is defined as the House passing one or more articles of impeachment, by a simple majority vote. The House has 435 voting members, of which 235 are Democrats. A strict party-line vote on impeachment would therefore pass. Any such articles of impeachment are likely to originate from the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler, and it is worth noting that the Committee is edging towards possibly recommending such articles this autumn:

Once a President is impeached, the trial by the Senate – with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presiding – requires a two-thirds majority for his conviction, and automatic removal from office. This is exceptionally unlikely given that 53 of the 100 Senators are Republicans, though, as with Nixon, it is possible that the mood of the Senate could change in light of any new information. But, for the purposes of this article, let us assume that Donald Trump’s impeachment would largely be “for show”, much like Bill Clinton’s.

The experience of the Clinton impeachment – an apparent electoral backlash against the Republicans for pursuing it – is one of the main reasons that the Democratic leadership (mostly in the form of Nancy Pelosi) has been keen to downplay the possibility. A second reason is to protect her members that represent swing districts [who, after all, are the ones who make up the majority]. Only one Democratic Congressman from a district won by Trump has come out for impeachment so far. Moderate (i.e. swing) voters are slightly against impeachment at present,  in line with the country as a whole.

At this juncture, it is worth noting that there may also be tactical arguments for impeachment. Not impeaching Trump could allow him to run in 2020 using lines such as: “Mueller cleared me, and the tragic Democrats didn’t even dare to impeach. NO COLLUSION!!!” But I think it is fair to say that the main motivation for impeaching Trump is simply the Democrats’ belief that he did indeed commit “high crimes and misdemeanors” – and, even worse, they might have allowed him to win the 2016 election.

Increasing Democratic internal pressure

Nancy Pelosi may not be able to withstand the pressure from within the Democratic Party for impeachment for much longer. In the wake of Robert Mueller’s testimony to Congress, in which he all but made clear that he would have recommended prosecution of Donald Trump, were he not the President, a procession of House Democrats went public with their desire to see a formal impeachment inquiry begin. The psychological barrier of 118 – “a majority of the majority” – has been breached. And that number can only realistically climb: this is a one-way ratchet, with every new tweet from Trump potentially converting more Democrats to the cause.

There is also electoral pressure on House Democrats to come out for impeachment in the shape of Congressional primaries: if you represent a very liberal district (just as Pelosi does) your primary electorate are likely to be highly pro-impeachment (perhaps 70%+), so you would need to be pretty sure of your personal appeal to go against that. It is for the same reason that the majority of the Democratic Presidential candidates have recommended impeachment – though none of the serious contenders want to focus on it. Such cues add further to the pressure on Pelosi.

5.7 – a good value bet

Turning to the betting, Republican (but anti-Trump) commentator Bill Kristol certainly noticed the stream of House Democrats:

It was this tweet – and notably his 50-50 prediction – that prompted me to check up on the Betfair market on impeachment, where you can still back impeachment at 5.7 (17.5%). In the interests of disclosure I should say that I already had a substantial pro-impeachment position with Betfair Sportsbook, which I had partially laid off on the Exchange. In the light of the developments I have chronicled above, I reversed my Exchange position so that I am currently very substantially pro-impeachment. It may not (yet) be 50-50, but I think it is more like 40-60 or so.

Finally, it is also always worth comparing US Betfair markets with their PredictIt equivalent. PredictIt is an academic research project that has a derogation to allow US “punters” to play, similarly to the Iowa Electronic Markets. However, there are two key limitations per market that may affect the pricing – each customer is limited to a $850 liability, and each market is limited to 5,000 customers. Bearing these caveats in mind, it’s still notable that the PredictIt impeachment market is currently at 26%, markedly higher than Betfair.

There are sound political reasons why the Democrats should not impeach Donald Trump. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be able to stop themselves. I think the 5.7 is an excellent value bet.

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