July 19, 2024

Donald Trump’s criminal conviction didn’t instantly upend the 2024 presidential race. But the results of a new poll should be worrying for Trump.

In the weeks since the verdict, both parties have sought to shape the public’s initial reaction, with Republicans largely denouncing it and Democrats citing the result as further evidence that Trump is unfit for office. To figure out how this unprecedented moment is being processed by the electorate, POLITICO Magazine partnered with Ipsos in a new survey.

Among the most notable findings in our poll: 21 percent of independents said the conviction made them less likely to support Trump and that it would be an important factor in their vote. In a close election, small shifts among independent and swing voters could determine the outcome.

And yet there is also good reason to believe that Trump and his allies’ efforts to discredit the prosecution and conviction have cast doubt on the validity of the verdict among many people and limited the potential fallout for the former president-turned-felon.

A sizable number of Americans, including independents, question whether the verdict was the result of a fair and impartial process. And although most respondents rejected the idea that the prosecution was brought to help President Joe Biden, a large number (43 percent of all respondents) either strongly or somewhat agreed that was the rationale for the case.

Taken as a whole, the results of the poll suggest that Americans’ views on the Trump verdict may still be malleable — and could get better or worse for Trump.

There are plenty of upcoming events and variables that could change public opinion before November, to say nothing of the ongoing efforts by political operatives on both sides of the aisle to influence (or not) public perceptions. That includes Trump’s sentencing in Manhattan (July 11), which could entail a period of incarceration, as well as Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s testimony before Congress about the case (July 12), where Republicans are sure to hammer him.

The recent conviction of Hunter Biden on gun charges and a scheduled trial in September on tax charges could also influence Americans’ perceptions, particularly since those cases dramatically undermine Trump and Republicans’ claims that the former president has been the victim of a “weaponized” Justice Department.

In the wake of Trump’s guilty verdict, we also sought to measure Americans’ trust in key figures in the criminal justice system — including lawyers, judges and juries — and compared the results against a survey that was taken roughly a year ago, as Trump’s criminal prosecutions were still getting underway. The data showed a drop in levels of trust among Republicans in particular.

But the least trusted actors in the legal system are not the lawyers prosecuting or defending the cases, or even the kind of state judges presiding over Trump’s case. They are the Supreme Court justices themselves, whose public approval has taken a considerable hit in recent years thanks to unpopular rulings issued by the conservative supermajority and a series of rolling ethical controversies involving Republican appointees Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas.

This poll was conducted from June 7-9 and had a sample of 1,027 adults, age 18 or older, who were interviewed online; it has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points for all respondents. This is the fourth poll on the Trump prosecutions that POLITICO Magazine has conducted in partnership with Ipsos since last summer.

Here are the key findings.

1. Trump’s Conviction Is an Electoral Liability — Particularly Among Independents

The notion suggested by some pundits that a conviction might help Trump in the general election was always deeply counterintuitive, and our post-verdict numbers rebuff that prediction.

A plurality of respondents in our poll (38 percent) reported that Trump’s conviction would have no impact on their likelihood to support Trump for president, but the results were decidedly lopsided among those who said it would affect their support. Thirty-three percent of respondents said that the conviction made them less likely to support Trump, while only 17 percent of respondents said that it made them more likely to support Trump.

The results were worse for Trump among respondents who said they were political independents. Thirty-two percent of them said that the conviction made them less likely to support Trump. Only 12 percent of them said that it made them more likely to support Trump.

2. Trump’s Conviction Could Drive Voters Away from Him

It is one thing for someone to say that the verdict makes them more or less likely to support Trump, but more important is whether the issue actually helps determine their vote, particularly given the array of other issues — the economy and immigration, to name just two — that are clearly important to many voters this year.

In an effort to isolate the effect of the verdict, we also asked respondents how important the conviction would be in deciding how they vote in November. Here too, the results were not good for Trump.

Twenty-two percent of respondents said that the conviction is important to how they will vote and that it makes them less likely to support Trump. Only 6 percent of respondents took the other side of that question — reporting that the conviction is important to how they will vote and that it makes them more likely to support Trump.

A nearly identical net-negative effect showed up among independents. Twenty-one percent of independents reported that they were less likely to support Trump and that the conviction is important to their vote. Just 5 percent of them said that the conviction is important to how they will vote and that it makes them more likely to support Trump.

3. Many Americans Remain Skeptical of the Verdict

There is, however, a silver lining for Trump: The numbers could be worse. In fact, our poll showed that a sizable number of Americans harbor reservations about the prosecution and the verdict.

We asked respondents, for instance, whether they thought that the guilty verdict was the result of “a fair and impartial judicial process.” A plurality of respondents said yes (46 percent), while others either disagreed (32 percent) or said that they did not know (19 percent).

Those trends largely held among the subset of independents, with a plurality of them saying that they thought that the verdict was the result of a fair and impartial process (46 percent), while others disagreed (27 percent) or said that they did not know (24 percent).

4. Many Americans Question the Origins of the Prosecution

We also asked several questions designed to probe whether and to what extent Americans associated the case with a partisan effort to prevent Trump from being reelected, as he has repeatedly claimed. Although there is no meaningful evidence that the prosecution was designed to prevent Trump’s reelection, the numbers suggest that Trump has succeeded in casting doubt on the integrity of the prosecution.

We asked respondents whether they thought that President Joe Biden was “directly involved” in the decision to bring the case. A majority of respondents either said yes (29 percent) or that they did not know (25 percent).

The numbers were even more favorable to Trump when we asked whether they believed that the Justice Department was “directly involved” in the Manhattan DA’s decision to prosecute Trump (despite a similar lack of evidence to support this view). Roughly a third of respondents said that they thought that DOJ was directly involved (36 percent) while another third (34 percent) said that they did not know.

5. Many Americans Believe that the Prosecution Was Brought to Help Joe Biden

We also asked respondents whether they thought that the prosecution was brought to help Joe Biden.

Most respondents (51 percent) disagreed with the claim, but a still-sizable chunk of them (43 percent) agreed that the case had been brought to help Biden.

The results were roughly similar among independents: 44 percent agreed that the case had been brought to help Biden and 50 percent disagreed.

These figures may be movable, however, given other data from the poll that suggests a notable contingent of Americans still lack a firm understanding of the case. Roughly a third of all respondents (31 percent) and independents (33 percent) said that they still do not understand the details of the case well.

6. Trust in the Justice System Has Eroded Among Republicans

We also surveyed respondents about how much they trust key actors in the criminal justice system — including prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and juries.

Two notable points emerged, particularly when we compared the results with an earlier survey conducted by Ipsos in July 2023 that posed similar questions.

First, the biggest shift in opinion over that time occurred among Republicans. Democrats generally maintained or increased their levels of trust in these actors, while Republicans’ trust decreased across the board — and by greater margins.

Last year, for instance, 60 percent of Republican respondents reported that they had either “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in citizens serving on juries, but in our latest survey, that number dropped to 42 percent. A year ago, 41 percent of Republican respondents reported a great deal or a fair amount of trust in prosecutors; that figure has now fallen to 32 percent.

Second, the least trusted group of actors did not turn out to be the usual suspects — prosecutors or defense attorneys — but the Supreme Court justices. Just 39 percent of all respondents reported having a great deal or a fair amount of trust in the justices — a figure that roughly tracks the court’s historically low approval ratings under the conservative supermajority.

It remains to be seen whether the public’s trust in the court will deteriorate even further given the array of controversial issues and litigants that remain on their docket as the current term wraps up in the coming weeks.

Among them? Another Trump prosecution.