What the polls say about Trump's hush money trial

About half of Americans think he's guilty. That likely won't matter in November.

April 14, 2024, 11:59 PM

Jury selection begins Monday in Donald Trump's New York hush money case, the first of the former president's four criminal trials. The charges are related to an alleged cover-up of a $130,000 hush money payment made to adult film actor Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 presidential election. But the polls suggest that a guilty verdict would be unlikely to have a big influence come November.

After a Manhattan grand jury voted to indict Trump on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records last March, a YouGov poll found that a majority — 52 percent — of Americans "strongly" or "somewhat" supported the indictment, compared with 32 percent who opposed it.

In the months since, public opinion of the case has largely held steady, with around half of Americans believing that the former president is guilty of the charges. According to the latest YouGov/Economist poll, 48 percent of adults agreed that Trump falsified business records — though opinions were, unsurprisingly, split along partisan lines. Eighty-seven percent of Democrats believed Trump was guilty, but just 35 percent of independents and 14 percent of Republicans did.

A New York Times/Siena College poll released Saturday asked likely voters what they thought the verdict in the hush money trial should be, to which 46 percent said Trump should be found guilty and 37 percent said he should be found not guilty. Again, those results fell generally along party lines.

Even if the Manhattan trial were to result in a conviction, many voters have indicated that it won't impact how they'll vote in November. A Quinnipiac University poll from March found that 55 percent of registered voters said a conviction in this case would make "no difference" in how they voted in the presidential race. Only 29 percent said they'd be less likely to support Trump — and that figure is composed in no small part of people who weren't likely to vote for him anyway. Forty-nine percent of Democrats said the conviction would make them less likely to cast a ballot for Trump.

True, an Ipsos/Politico Magazine poll from March suggested that a conviction could hurt Trump's chances with independents, 36 percent of whom said they would be less likely to support Trump if he was found guilty. But that was still 8 percentage points lower than the share of independents who said a conviction wouldn't change anything about their voting intentions.

And among Republicans, just 9 percent said a conviction in the Manhattan trial would make them less likely to support Trump, while 34 percent said it'd make them more likely to support his presidential bid. This isn't particularly surprising — Trump supporters have shown that they'll stick with him no matter what, and most skeptics who might be willing to turn on Trump have probably already done so.

After all, the former president has been indicted three other times since last April, in cases that Americans generally view as more serious than the New York one. According to an Ipsos/Reuters poll released Wednesday, 65 percent of registered voters found the hush-money-related charges "very" or "somewhat" serious, trailing the other three cases by 5 to 10 points. And in a YouGov poll from January, 56 percent of respondents ranked the hush money case as the least important of the four indictments. That majority held across nearly all demographic groups surveyed, including party identification.

Another downstream effect of Trump's multiple indictments is that pollsters are now asking questions about Trump's legal troubles collectively, rather than asking about each individual case. I took a look back at all the surveys with questions about Trump's criminal cases since Jan. 1 and found that only a handful asked specifically about the alleged hush money cover-up.

And pollsters aren't the only ones lumping the different cases against Trump together: The Ipsos/Politico poll found that a near-identical proportion of Americans (around half) believe Trump is guilty in all four cases. And with beliefs in Trump's guilt largely falling in line with partisanship, opinions on the indictments appear to be little more than a reflection of how voters feel about Trump at large.

To wit: Americans are also evenly split on whether the charges against Trump are fair or politically motivated "witch hunts," as he has repeatedly claimed. An AtlasIntel poll from February found that 49 percent of registered voters believed the charges against Trump were politically motivated, while 46 percent said the proceedings were out of "genuine interest in applying the law." Looking at the crosstabs by party, more independents said the cases were a result of political persecution rather than out of legitimate legal concern.

What voters do seem to agree on, though, is that they want Trump's legal issues to be wrapped up before November. Sixty-three percent of adults in a March YouGov/Yahoo News poll said it was important for voters to get a verdict in the trials before the general election, including 38 percent of Republicans. And no matter their desired outcome, voters are doubtful that Trump will spend any time behind bars; a Civiqs/Daily Kos poll from March found that 60 percent of respondents believed Trump would never serve jail time for any crime, while just 11 percent believed he would (29 percent were unsure).

Polling on the New York trial — and the other three indictments — reflects a clean split between the political parties and not much else. A guilty verdict might hurt Trump's performance among independents, but severe political polarization for and against the former president means that a seismic shift in voting patterns is unlikely.

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