Polls say a conviction could cost Trump a fifth of his support. Should we believe them?

Polls have suggested for months that former President Trump could lose support among some Republicans if he is convicted of a crime. But if history is any guide, many of those supporters will stick with him.

A Manhattan jury on Wednesday began deliberating 34 counts of falsifying business records related to his attempt to influence the 2016 campaign by concealing a payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels.

What do the polls say?

An ABC News/Ipsos poll conducted this month found that 16% of Trump’s supporters would reconsider their support while 4% would leave him altogether if he is convicted of a felony.

A Bloomberg/Morning Consult poll of seven swing states in January found 9% of Republican-leaning voters would be somewhat unwilling to vote for Trump if he is convicted of a crime, while 14% of those voters said they would be very unwilling to vote for him.

Will those numbers hold up?

Potential defectors in the ABC poll left themselves wiggle room by saying they would “reconsider” support rather than rule it out completely. And time usually helps Trump recapture his base after a scandal as he and other Republicans argue that the process is rigged or the alternative to Trump is worse.

Notice that, although the questions differed, his numbers look better in the May ABC poll than they did in the January Bloomberg poll, when 14% of Republicans were more willing to cast Trump off, saying they would be “very unwilling” to back him in the case of a conviction.

Will people who leave Trump switch to President Biden?

A USA Today/Suffolk poll in March found 14% of Trump supporters said they would leave him if he is convicted. But less than 1% would move to Biden. The biggest chunk, 7.5%, said they would move to a third party.

That could still help Biden indirectly because it would erode Trump’s margins if it holds up, according to David Paleologos, who directs the Suffolk poll.

How has Trump prepared his supporters for a conviction?

Trump has been seeding the ground with his supporters for a possible conviction for months, using two primary tools. First, he has summoned a chorus of party bigwigs to the courtroom, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, to parrot his protestations and signal loyalty at the highest reaches of the Republican Party, a technique he has used with prior scandals. Second, he has continually criticized the judge and prosecutor and, briefly, even the jury to undermine the process and manage expectations that he might be convicted.

“Mother Teresa could not beat these charges,” Trump said Wednesday.

The approach has helped Trump politically. Just 7% of Republicans think he is getting a fair trial, compared with 76% of Democrats, according to a USA Today/Suffolk poll conducted this month.

Haven’t we seen this movie before?

Yes. Trump looked doomed after the “Access Hollywood” tape became public in October 2016, so much so that he is now being accused of concealing the payment to keep Daniels quiet about an alleged affair.

But party leaders and voters in his base were able to move on by concluding that it was locker room talk or that the alternative, Hillary Clinton, was a worse choice.

A similar dynamic played out after the Jan. 6 insurrection. Party leaders blamed Trump for what they characterized as a dark day in history in the immediate aftermath. But he escaped conviction in the Senate, with help from Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, and his support among GOP voters eventually rebounded.

More than half of Republicans (51%) disapproved strongly of the actions of those who forced their way into the Capitol in a January 2021 CBS/YouGov poll. Three years later, only 32% strongly disapproved of their actions, according to another CBS poll. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans also supported pardons for those convicted of crimes related to the insurrection in the 2024 poll.

So could a conviction affect the election?

Maybe. If Trump loses in court, Biden and the rest of the country can call him a convicted felon from now until November.

And even a small number of Republicans and undecided voters can swing an election that is expected to be extremely close. The USA Today/Suffolk poll found independent voters were divided evenly, 37% to 37%, on whether Trump’s trial is fair or not, leaving more room for at least some voters to be swayed by a verdict.

“In a vacuum, this verdict could continue right through the election because it will be a conviction. It will be historical,” said Paleologos.

But at some point, other issues like the economy could crowd it out and it could feel to some voters like old news, he said.

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Kevin harson

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