By Chris Kahn
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats have a clear message for party leaders who will take control of the U.S. House of Representatives next year, according to a Reuters/Ipsos national opinion poll: Protect their healthcare and impeach President Donald Trump.
The poll released on Thursday found that 43 percent of people who identified as Democrats want impeachment to be a top priority for Congress. That goal was second in priority only to healthcare, which played a major role in Democratic campaigns' closing arguments before Tuesday's elections.
They may be disappointed: Party leaders on Wednesday vowed to use their newly won majority to impose a new level of scrutiny on the Trump White House, but said impeachment would require evidence of action to subvert the Constitution that was so overwhelming that it would trouble even Trump's supporters.
Democratic Party leaders had practical reasons for caution. While they were poised to gain at least 30 House seats, more than the 23 they needed for a majority, Republicans strengthened their control of the U.S. Senate, which has the power to determine guilt or innocence in an impeachment proceeding.
"I want him out of office," said Aprille Evans-Wright, 73, a mobile home park manager in Reno, Nevada, who responded to the poll. "He won't show us his tax returns. He lies consistently. He is leading people astray and he's holding children prisoner at the border."
The American public at large was far less supportive of impeachment proceedings, with just 24 percent of overall respondents listing it among their top three goals for the new Congress.
About 18 percent of Democrats wanted Congress to review Trump's tax returns, with 11 percent of respondents overall citing that as a priority.
Fifty-four percent of Democrats and 55 percent of Republicans surveyed said the new Congress should prioritize addressing the U.S. healthcare system. But the poll did not delve into how they would like to see the system changed.
Democrats had focused their messages through the final weeks of the campaign on protecting health insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, which was assured by the 2010 Affordable Care Act, often known as Obamacare, that Republicans have repeatedly tried to repeal.
Democrats' third-most-often-cited priority was the environment, mentioned by 40 percent of respondents.
After healthcare, Republicans' top priorities were improving border security, which 54 percent of respondents cited; immigration reform, cited by 40 percent, and cutting taxes, with 37 percent support.
One in four Democrats said they would like to see Congress protect the ongoing investigation by former FBI Director Robert Mueller into whether Trump's 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Russia. Both Trump and Moscow have denied that charge.
Trump so far has refused to be interviewed by Mueller.
"I would like the truth to come out about him and Russia," said Wendy McMillan, 53, of Rochester, New York. "I just have a really big feeling that Russia had a hand in him being elected."
The online poll gathered responses from 904 Democrats and 840 Republicans from Oct. 30 to Nov. 5. That was before Tuesday's election, though by that time most opinion polls and nonpartisan forecasters had predicted that Democrats would win control of the House.
The poll asked respondents to list the top three priorities for Congress to address in the 2019-20 session.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted in English throughout the United States. It has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of about 4 percentage points for Democrats.
(Reporting by Chris Kahn; editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)