So far, the fact that former President Donald Trump has been criminally indicted four times this year has done little to dent his support among Republican voters.
But what if he’s eventually convicted?
A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll has found that in that scenario, even some current Trump supporters could start to have second thoughts about casting their ballots for him in 2024.
The survey of 1,665 U.S. adults was conducted from Aug. 17 to 21 — after the news of Trump’s most recent indictment, for allegedly orchestrating a racketeering ring to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia, had some time to sink in, but before he surrendered Thursday at the Fulton County Jail.
The results are striking.
A Trump conviction could upend the GOP primary
Asked about their current preference for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, a full 52% of potential Republican primary voters — that is, voters who identify as Republicans or Republican-leaning independents — select Trump. That makes him the party’s undisputed frontrunner, with the next closest candidate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, trailing by 40 percentage points.
But when the same voters are asked a new follow-up question — “If Trump is convicted of a serious crime in the coming months, who would you vote for in your state’s 2024 Republican primary?” — support for the former president suddenly plummets by 17 points (to just 35%). Support for DeSantis, on the other hand, rises by 8 points (to 20%). Another 17% say they’re not sure (up from 14%). No other candidate gains more than a point or two.
Biden also stands to benefit
Asking registered voters who they would vote for in next year’s general election “if Trump is convicted of a serious crime” produces a similar (though smaller) shift. In that case, support for President Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, holds steady at 47%. But support for Trump falls by 3 points, from 41% to 38%, while the overall number of voters who say they're not sure (9%) or that they would not vote (6%) increases by 3 points.
That gives Biden a 9-point lead.
In 2020, Biden defeated Trump by 4.5 percentage points nationwide — enough for a 306-232 Electoral College victory. If Biden were to double his previous margin in 2024, Trump would lose in a landslide. By the same token, if Trump were to shed 17 points of GOP primary support in Iowa, the first caucus state, his lead there would shrink to single digits, according to the latest polling.
For observers who have long wondered if anything could ever loosen Trump’s iron grip on the GOP, such numbers offer a provisional answer: perhaps being found guilty of serious crimes — and possibly even sentenced to prison — on the brink of a high-stakes presidential election.
(Asked at Wednesday’s GOP primary debate if they would still support the nomination of a convicted Trump, six of his eight rivals — everyone except former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson — said yes. DeSantis hesitated and made sure others were raising their hands before raising his.)
To be sure, these Trump conviction scenarios are all very hypothetical. The former president's trials haven’t started yet, and they might not conclude before voters go to the polls, either in key primary states or in the general election. He may be acquitted in the end. Unless the rest of the GOP can coalesce around a single alternative, 35% of the primary vote could still be enough to secure Trump the nomination.
And even if the former president is found guilty of serious crimes in the coming months, supporters who currently express hesitation about backing a convicted felon — or say they’d skip voting altogether — might find a way to rationalize returning to the fold when primary day or Election Day actually arrives.
Yet for Trump — and for the party poised to nominate him again — real signs of danger remain.
Majorities of Americans say the charges are 'serious'
For one thing, large majorities of Americans say the crimes he’s been accused of are, in fact, “serious”:
Falsifying business records to conceal hush money payments to a porn star: 54% serious crime, 34% not a serious crime
Taking highly classified documents from the White House and obstructing efforts to retrieve them: 66% serious crime, 20% not a serious crime
Conspiring to overturn the results of a presidential election: 70% serious crime, 17% not a serious crime
Attempting to obstruct the certification of a presidential election: 70% serious crime, 17% not a serious crime
For the last two offenses — Trump’s alleged election crimes — even Republicans are more likely to consider them serious (47%) than not (32-33%).
Second, just 27% of Americans believe there “should be no criminal cases against Trump” at all. A combined 56% say either that “there should be more criminal cases against Trump” (28%); that “the number of cases is appropriate” (18%); or that “there should be some charges against Trump” even if “four cases is too many” (10%). Indictment fatigue is not a big issue, at least not yet.
Most Americans want Trump found guilty
Finally, most Americans already think Trump should be “found guilty” on some or all charges in the election cases, both at the federal level (54%) and in Georgia (52%). Less than a third (32% and 31%, respectively) say he should not be convicted.
As usual, the new Yahoo News/YouGov poll found a clear and consistent pattern of partisan polarization around the Trump indictments. Across the board, slightly less than half of Americans (48% on average) approved of “the decision to indict” him in each separate case, while slightly more than a third (35% on average) disapproved.
The problem for the former president is that 35% — or even 38%, his head-to-head number against Biden “if convicted” — is not enough to win.
In 2020, Trump received nearly 47% of the national popular vote; he still lost by 7 million ballots. To mount a successful comeback in 2024, he will need to expand his support, not shed it. Getting convicted of a serious crime between now and then is likely to be a step in the wrong direction.
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,665 U.S. adults interviewed online from Aug. 17 to 21, 2023. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (32% Democratic, 27% Republican). Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.8%.