The Data Is Clear: The Indictment Makes Republicans More Like Trump
The pre-indictment poll numbers are consistent with the political dynamic that has existed since Trump took office six years ago: The Republican base — especially low-level voters and those who describe themselves as very conservative — rallies around Trump after scandals, even as those controversies take a toll on Trump’s overall image.
So what’s best for Trump’s chances of retaining Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the other contenders for the nomination — an indictment that rallies most of Trump’s competitors and Republican voters base around him — likely making it harder for the GOP to win back the presidency in 2024.
Over the past month, as the prospect of criminal charges loomed over Trump, the former president was actually increasing his national advantage over DeSantis, who has yet to officially enter the race, among GOP voters. The indictment does little to threaten that lead, at least in the short term — as evidenced by DeSantis and the other declared or likely candidates who spoke out against the charges Thursday.
But it’s not just that Republican voters think Trump is being targeted or treated unfairly. A significant portion of them believe he is completely innocent. In the Marist College poll, in addition to four in five Republicans calling the Trump investigations a “witch hunt,” only 10% of GOP voters say Trump did anything illegal. Almost half, 45%, say Trump did nothing wrong, while 43% describe Trump’s behavior as “unethical, but not illegal.”
Similarly, in the Quinnipiac pre-indictment poll, only 20% of Republicans said the existence of criminal charges against Trump should disqualify him from running for president, and 52% said the Manhattan case was “not serious at all”.
Those numbers could change once details of the indictment become public. But for now, Republicans are out of step with the electorate as a whole. Fifty-seven percent of Quinnipiac poll respondents say the criminal charges should disqualify Trump from the campaign, and only 26 percent say the allegations in the New York case are not serious at all.
While most Republicans say Trump’s various investigations amount to a “witch hunt” in the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, that’s just 41% of all Americans. And 46% of Americans say Trump committed crimes (compared to just 10% of Republicans), while another 29% call Trump’s actions “unethical, but not illegal.”
In another pre-indictment survey released this week, Democratic polling consortium Navigator Research found that 57% of voters supported indicting Trump for “illegally using campaign funds for personal expenses – a silent payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels – then having lied to it,” including a quarter of Republicans, 25%.
And online pollster Morning Consult offered the first data point after the indictment was announced, although it still had little time for it to be understood. In a flash poll conducted Friday morning, 51% of voters said they supported the indictment, but only 19% of GOP primary voters agreed. (Surveys conducted entirely in one day, let alone half a day, are subject to greater potential sources of error than other surveys.)
There’s a message for Trump’s defenders that resonates: just because Americans don’t think Trump isn’t the victim of a “witch hunt” doesn’t mean they don’t think the politics is a factor.
In the Quinnipiac poll, 62% of those polled said the district attorney’s case was primarily politically motivated, including 93% Republicans, 29% Democrats and 70% independents. Less than a third, 32%, said the case was primarily motivated by law.
There are, however, discrete limits to this argument. In Friday’s Morning Consult poll, voters were split between those who said the New York grand jury’s decision to indict Trump was based primarily on evidence that Trump had broken the law (46%) and those who said the grand jury was motivated “to undermine Trump policy. career” (43%).
The coming days and weeks will bring more data, especially after Trump’s scheduled impeachment next week. And there’s a clue in the Quinnipiac poll as to how this moment could move the needle of public opinion.
Quinnipiac pollsters cited Trump’s statement earlier this week that his indictment was imminent and called on his supporters to protest and “take back our country.” They asked respondents if Trump was “acting primarily out of concern for democracy” as a candidate likely to face criminal charges while campaigning for the nation’s highest office, “or was acting primarily out of concern for himself?” »
Of the subgroups identified by Quinnipiac, only one thought Trump was defending democracy by urging protests against his indictment: Republicans (56%). The majority of all Americans (69%), Democrats (98%) and Independents (71%) thought Trump was mostly concerned about himself.