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Conviction could cost Trump key votes, polls show, but until then his trial doesn’t seem to change minds

Written by on May 6, 2024

Mark Peterson/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — Donald Trump is standing trial in New York on felony charges connected with hush money paid to allegedly conceal claims of an affair from voters before the 2016 presidential election.

It’s a historic event — at a time when Americans are also weighing who to vote for in the former president’s upcoming rematch with Joe Biden.

Trump denies all wrongdoing and has pleaded not guilty. He says the alleged affair never happened.

But polls show the charges carry some electoral risk: A poll conducted by ABC News and Ipsos in April 2023 found that 52% of Americans viewed the New York charges against Trump as significant.

And a new ABC News/Ipsos poll found that a fifth of Trump’s supporters said they would either reconsider their support (16%) or withdraw it (4%) if he’s convicted of a felony.

At the same time, with the weekslong trial still ongoing, the details don’t appear to be changing many minds, according to recent interviews with seven voters who were polled by ABC and Ipsos last year, both those who felt Trump’s charges were at least somewhat serious and those who didn’t.

The voter interviews suggested that their strong opinions of the former president are coloring how they are reacting to the twists and turns of the hush money trial — rather than the other way around.

“Yes,” Charles Carabelli, a Michigan retiree who identifies as an independent and said last year the charges were very serious, told ABC News when asked if he was keeping up with the trial. “And I hope he [Trump] gets convicted.”

When pressed on what makes him think the case is serious, rather than pointing to specific details, Carabelli tied his views to his opinion of Trump more broadly: “Because he’s a shyster and a liar. And he lied to the American people. He’s all about himself.”

James Mitchell, a retired lawyer and Republican from Wyoming, indicated he didn’t feel the trial would ultimately matter.

“Am I really keeping up on it? Not really because, yes, it’s serious, [but] I think the system’s rigged,” said Mitchell, who last year called the charges somewhat serious.

Interviews with Trump’s defenders showed a similar trend.

Ray Flores, a 77-year-old Marine Corps veteran and Republican who lives in Dyer, Indiana, said he voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020 and has been keeping up with the trial as well but believes it is a “sham,” echoing claims of persecution from Trump himself, which prosecutors deny. Flores said in last year’s poll that he felt the hush money charges were not serious.

“It’s all political what they’re doing to Trump,” he said in an interview. “Everything was good four years ago. I have no complaints from then.”

One of the voters who said last year that the case was very serious expressed openness to coming around to Trump — entirely separate from the details of the case.

Felicia Anderson, a home health nurse from Fullerton, California, said in an interview that she’s leaning toward voting for President Biden in November. But a change in tone from Trump could sway her.

“To me, he talks down to people. If he would learn not to talk down to people, oh, he has me,” Anderson, who said she identifies as a Democratic-leaning independent, told ABC News.

Some outside political experts predicted that any political fallout from the trial may be blunted unless Trump ends up behind bars — an unlikely scenario for a first-time offender in a case such as the one in New York.

“I think they’re probably following it less closely, and it’s just kind of background noise right now,” GOP pollster Robert Blizzard said of voters. “Now, if something happens, he gets thrown in jail or there’s some huge thing that comes out that nobody knows about yet, that has the potential to maybe shift some attitudes.”

“But Trump’s gonna get what Trump’s gonna get,” Blizzard said, referencing the former president’s likely share of the electorate.

Experts note that Trump, a brash-talking and often controversial real estate mogul and former reality TV star with universal name recognition and a well-established public persona, has seen his political career survive a series of scandals, none of which have upended his standing with the Republican base. Early polls this year show him in a close race with Biden.

“The attitudes toward everything revolving around Trump’s legal issues coincides directly with your preconceived attitudes toward Trump,” Blizzard, the pollster, said.

That’s not to say the trial hasn’t been newsy, including fights over Trump’s conduct regarding a gag order, headline-making details about how a tabloid publisher said he worked to quash unflattering stories for Trump and emotional testimony from a former aide.

Trump faces other notable legal problems, including three other pending trials — over his alleged mishandling of classified documents after leaving office and his efforts to overturn his 2020 loss. He has pleaded not guilty in all cases.

But even if any of those cases are heard ahead of the election — a big if — the political fallout could remain the same without a conviction or acquittal before voting ends, Blizzard said.

“When we do an open-ended question on a survey or when you’re doing qualitative focus groups or things like that, nobody is bringing up Trump trials organically,” he told ABC News. “It’s just not in the bloodstream and not something that people are paying attention to on a day-to-day basis as much as the media thinks.”

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