Trump's legal risk has not hurt his Republican support, Times/Siena poll finds

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Donald J. Trump continues to march toward the 2024 Republican presidential nomination with a commanding lead over his primary rivals, even as a large majority of voters across the country believe he has committed serious federal crimes, including a growing faction of Republicans, according to a new survey. from the New York Times and Siena College.

The results show the remarkable degree to which Republican voters are willing to overlook Trump's legal jeopardy (the former president has been impeached four times in 2023 and faces 91 felony charges) and rally behind his potential return to power.

Overall, 58 percent of voters nationwide believe Trump committed serious federal crimes, according to the survey, including 66 percent of independent voters.

However, Trump continues to defeat his closest Republican competitors in the primaries by more than 50 percentage points, earning the support of 64 percent of Republican primary voters nationwide. Nikki Haley, a former United Nations ambassador, is now a distant second at 11 percent, followed by Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who has fallen to third place at 9 percent.

The poll was conducted before a court ruling Tuesday injected more legal uncertainty into the 2024 presidential race. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Trump is disqualified from holding office again because he participated in an insurrection that led to the storming of the Capitol on January 6, a decision that the former president plans to appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

Trump's lead in the primary has grown since the summer, even though the share of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who believe he engaged in criminal activity rose to 27 percent from 17 percent in July. Trump is in the lead not only because he dominates among the large share of Republicans who view him as innocent, but also because he is winning over the one in three Republican voters who think he participated in serious crimes.

Support for Trump in the Times/Siena poll is so complete that 62 percent of Republicans think that if the former president wins the primary he should remain the GOP nominee, even if he is later convicted of a federal crime.

“What they are doing to this man is a crime,” James Howe, 81, a retired airline worker in Phoenix, said of Trump. “There has never been anyone in the history of this country that so many people have tried to convict of a crime.”

But there are clear warning signs for Trump about the impact of his legal jeopardy on a potential showdown with President Biden. More than one in five Republican voters believe Trump has committed crimes, and 13 percent of Republicans believe he should be found guilty in court for trying to overturn the 2020 election. For now, Biden is winning only a third of Republicans who think Trump should be found guilty, leaving Biden room to gain support.

Trump's political and legal fates appear increasingly intertwined, and his lawyers are seeking to delay his upcoming trials. While Trump's accusations do not appear to be an impediment to his potential nomination, the 32 percent of Republicans who think a conviction will mean the party should nominate someone else could provide fertile electoral ground for Democrats.

Many voters readily admitted that they had not fully tuned in to Trump's legal problems. The charges he faces relate to, among other things, his attempt to overturn the 2020 election, his alleged mishandling of classified documents, and his hush money payments to a porn star in 2016.

About half of voters said they were paying little or no attention to the cases, and Democrats paid more attention than Republicans or independent voters. It is not yet clear whether any of the trials will begin before next fall's general election, but Trump's legal team is preparing for the likelihood that one of the cases could begin in March.

A majority of voters, 53 percent, said they viewed Trump as somewhat or very unlikely to be convicted in the 2020 election, compared with 35 percent who saw a conviction as very or somewhat likely.

In many ways, public opinion on the allegations against Trump appears to have been refracted, if not warped, through the same polarized lens that colors much of the way Americans consume political news these days.

“For him to take those classified documents home… you know, that's obviously illegal. It's illegal, but I don't think it's as big a deal as they make it out to be,” said Clifford McRoberts, 72, who lives in Bay Point, California, and operates a small online store.

A conviction, he said, would not deter his vote for Trump.

“No, not at all,” McRoberts said. “I voted for Nixon too.”

83 percent of Republicans consider Trump's prosecutions to be politically motivated. And 84 percent of Democrats said he was charged because prosecutors believed he had broken the law.

Voters in the poll were also evenly divided (47 percent to 47 percent) on whether Trump truly believed the election had been stolen or whether he was knowingly making false claims. And again, more than 80 percent of Democrats and Republicans sided with their political tribes.

Perhaps as a result, the variety of charges against Trump so far do not appear to be helping Biden politically.

Trump leads Biden 46 percent to 44 percent among registered voters. However, among those considered most likely to vote, Biden actually leads Trump, 47 percent to 45 percent. In a sign of Biden's weakness among registered voters, his level of support is actually lower than the share of voters (47 percent) who believe Trump should be found guilty of trying to overturn the 2020 election.

Reservations about Biden are undermining some voters' concerns about Trump's criminality.

Allison Sullender, 39, a self-described independent voter who lives in San Bernardino, California, said she was undecided about her 2024 vote. She sees Trump as a “corrupt businessman” but has deep concerns about his age and Biden's economy.

For now, he leans Democratic. “But am I confident he will serve another four years?” she said. “No, i do not do it”.

There is a huge educational chasm when it comes to how voters view the criminal charges against Trump.

Among those with a college degree, 64 percent believe Trump has been impeached because prosecutors believe he committed crimes. Those without a university education think the opposite: 54 percent of them consider the accusations to be politically motivated.

By a wide margin, college graduates believe Trump should be found guilty of trying to overturn the 2020 election. Voters who did not graduate from college take the opposite position.

The education gap is also evident within the Republican Party.

By a huge margin (70 percent to 25 percent), Republicans without college degrees believe Trump should remain the nominee even if he is convicted. However, opinion is evenly divided among Republican college graduates.

If, as expected, the 2020 election case goes to trial, 47 percent of voters said Trump should be found guilty, compared to 39 percent who said not guilty. But confidence in the fairness of a trial was not widespread: 43 percent said a trial would be fair and impartial compared to 49 percent who said it would not be.

“I don't think our justice system will give him a fair trial,” said Nykhael Kim, 39, a sales manager in Easley, South Carolina, who supports DeSantis in the primary but still sees Trump's prosecution. as “politically motivated.”

Fifty percent of voters (including 18 percent of Republicans) said that if Trump were convicted, he should be sentenced to prison.

When it comes to the presidential primaries, the poll shows very few signs of political vulnerability for Trump less than a month before voting begins. He is leading Haley and DeSantis among Republican voters of all ages and income levels, in cities, rural areas and suburbs. Trump is winning 80 percent of GOP primary voters who do not believe he committed serious crimes, and 34 percent of those who think he did.

Trump's rivals have repeatedly argued that the election will be played out state by state, starting in Iowa and New Hampshire. But the national picture remains bleak for them, with Haley and DeSantis each hovering around 10 percent support.

The poll makes clear the very different political coalitions that Trump's rivals have assembled to get there.

Most DeSantis voters do not believe Trump committed serious federal crimes, while most Haley supporters believe he did. Nearly all of DeSantis' supporters said they would support Trump over Biden, while Haley's supporters are more divided on that issue.

Education is also a key factor in understanding the dynamics of the Republican primaries.

Haley is winning with 28 percent of Republicans with college degrees, but only 3 percent of Republicans who did not graduate from college. Trump is winning in both groups, but he got nearly twice as much support from Republicans who didn't attend college (76 percent) as from those who did (39 percent).

Vivek Ramaswamy, the businessman, is at 5 percent in the poll, and Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor who has argued most forcefully that Trump's conduct and legal cases make him “unfit” to return to office. White House, had 3 percent support.

Maggie Haberman contributed with reports.

The New York Times/Siena College poll of 1,016 registered voters nationwide was conducted by telephone using live operators from December 10 to 14, 2023. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for registered voters. Crosstabs and methodology are available here.



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