Politics

Could verdict in Trump criminal trial upend the presidential election?

With former President Trump’s criminal trial now in the hands of the jury, a pending verdict in the historic case could have serious consequences in the 2024 election between Trump and President Biden.

Trump currently holds a slight edge both in national polling and in public opinion surveys in most of the crucial battleground states that will likely decide their rematch.

However, Trump faces the possibility of being convicted on some or all of the nearly three-dozen state felony charges he faces in his trial in New York City, which is the first in the nation’s history for a former or current president. There is also the prospect of a hung jury or an acquittal.

Could any of these legal outcomes alter the current trajectory in the White House race?

Veteran pollster Chris Anderson, a member of the Fox News Election Decision Team and the Democratic partner on the Fox News Poll, said that he did not think ‘a guilty verdict would fundamentally change the landscape of the race.’

Daron Shaw, a politics professor and chair at the University of Texas who also serves as a member of the Fox News Decision Team and the Republican partner on the Fox News Poll, noted that ‘prior to 2020, no one would have thought that a candidate could survive a criminal conviction.’

‘But times and circumstances have evolved. And while the specific findings of the jury could matter, I think there is a sense that a conviction in this case would not appreciably change the dynamics of the race,’ Shaw emphasized.

Both pointed to the fact that ‘attitudes are so set in concrete’ regarding both the former Republican president and his Democratic successor in the White House.

Trump is charged with falsifying business records in relation to payments during the 2016 election that he made to Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about his alleged affair with the adult film actress. Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, $130,000 in return for her silence about allegations of an affair with Trump in 2006. Prosecutors have argued that this amounted to illegally seeking to influence the 2016 election.

Both Cohen and Daniels testified for the prosecution and were grilled by Trump’s attorneys during cross-examination in a case that has grabbed tons of attention on the cable news networks, online and on social media.

The former president has repeatedly denied falsifying business records as well as the alleged sexual encounter with Daniels, and he has repeatedly claimed, without providing evidence, that the case is a ‘SHAM TRIAL instigated and prosecuted directly from the inner halls of the White House and DOJ.’

Trump has also been fined a couple of times and threatened with jail by the judge in the case for violating a gag order aimed at protecting witnesses and jurors from the former president’s verbal attacks.

According to a Fox News national poll conducted earlier this month, nearly half of registered voters questioned said Trump had done something illegal when it comes to violations of campaign finance laws, with another quarter saying he had done something unethical. 

Only 27% said the former president had done nothing seriously wrong. However, that number jumped to 54% among Trump supporters.

That same survey indicated that voters were roughly divided on whether Trump’s legal treatment was fair (51%) or unfair (47%). There was an expected extremely wide partisan divide, with nine out of 10 Democrats saying the former president’s treatment was fair and 85% of Republicans disagreeing.

By a 56%-44% margin, a CBS News poll indicated a majority of Americans said Trump was definitely or probably guilty of a crime in the case. However, there was a vast partisan divide on the issue.

Would a Trump guilty verdict dramatically alter the current state of play in the presidential showdown?

Recent national polling points to a very small — but potentially decisive — drop in support for Trump if he’s convicted in court.

Sixty-two percent of registered voters questioned in a Quinnipiac University survey said a guilty verdict would make no difference to their vote for president. Fifteen percent said it would make them more likely to cast a ballot for Trump and 21% said it would make them less likely to vote for the former president.

Additionally, eight out of 10 Trump supporters surveyed in an ABC News/Ipsos poll said they would still back the presumptive GOP presidential nominee if he was found guilty in court. Sixteen percent said they would reconsider their support and 4% said they would no longer back Trump.

Additionally, a Reuters-Ipsos poll indicated a two-point shift away from Trump if the former president is convicted, with a bigger six-point shift if Trump is put behind bars.

Anderson compared a potential guilty verdict to the infamous video that briefly damaged Trump’s chances of winning the 2016 presidential election. 

‘We might see an ‘Access Hollywood’ type slump in Trump’s poll numbers, where some of his less devoted supporters sour on him temporarily, but then by November it will seem forgivable,’ Anderson said. ‘ So I don’t think a guilty verdict would fundamentally change the landscape of the race, but it will certainly be a new contour that could be meaningful in a close race.’

Shaw, who served as a top strategist on former President George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns, said that ‘the case is esoteric and the prosecution and judge have been painted as partisan hacks by not only the Trump team but by many legal analysts.’

‘This framing has influenced the opinions of voters, most of whom have already made up their minds about Trump and the charges he faces,’ Shaw emphasized.

However, what about an acquittal or a hung jury in the case, which the Trump campaign would likely advertise as a political victory? Unfortunately, there has been scant polling on those legal scenarios. 

However, Anderson spotlighted that regardless of the outcome, the history-making trial would have an impact.

‘Regardless of the verdict, this trial clearly isn’t what Trump wants to be dealing with right now and has not helped him,’ Anderson said. ‘What might help him is a not guilty verdict that will allow him to claim vindication. But even then, it’s a real stretch to imagine it becomes a net positive for him.’

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