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Yahoo News/YouGov poll: Most voters say convicting Trump of a ‘serious crime’ would be a ‘fair outcome’

In World
February 01, 2024

Most U.S. voters (51%) say that if former President Donald Trump is convicted of a “serious crime” in the coming months, it would be a “fair outcome meant to hold him accountable for his actions,” according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll — and even more (53%) say he “should not be allowed” to serve as president again in such a scenario.

The survey was designed in part to probe what voters know and don’t know about the 91 criminal charges Trump is facing across four different criminal cases — and how those cases might affect his political future as they play out alongside this year’s presidential race.

Yet even as a narrow majority of voters say that a conviction would be a fair outcome, a large number of Republican and Republican-leaning voters already think the opposite — that any conviction would be “an unfair outcome meant to damage [Trump] politically” (72%) and that Trump should be allowed to serve again even if he’s found guilty of a serious crime (68%).

The Yahoo News/YouGov poll of 1,594 U.S. adults was conducted from Jan. 25 to 29.

Many Americans are unaware of Trump’s legal problems

No former president — let alone a former president running for reelection — has ever been a convicted felon, and that unprecedented possibility is the biggest remaining wild card in a contest that increasingly looks like it will be a rematch between President Biden and Trump.

But could a criminal conviction really change how people vote in November?

The first thing to note is that despite copious media coverage, awareness of Trump’s various indictments is far from universal. In fact, just over half of Americans say Trump has been indicted for each alleged crime, with expressed awareness highest for “taking classified documents from the White House and obstructing efforts to retrieve them” (58%) and lowest for “attempting to obstruct certification of a presidential election” (50%).

That means nearly half of the country thinks Trump hasn’t been indicted (ranging from 14% to 18%, depending on the charge) or is unsure (ranging from 27% to 32%). Republicans are especially unaware of Trump’s indictments, with most either saying he hasn’t been indicted on a particular charge (24% to 30%) or that they’re not sure (27% to 35%).

These numbers will presumably change once Trump’s various trials begin later this year.

On a related note, most Americans don’t realize — yet — that U.S. law does not automatically block a convicted felon from occupying the Oval Office. Asked if a person convicted of a serious crime would be “prevented by law from serving as president,” more incorrectly say yes (40%) than correctly say no (26%); another 33% are unsure.

Democrats are especially likely (53%) to get this question wrong, but even a third of Republicans (31%) seem to think a conviction would legally disqualify their party’s most likely nominee. For some voters, it could come as a rude awakening if Trump is found guilty in the months ahead — and then just keeps campaigning as if nothing happened.

Different trials present different dangers for Trump

As things stand — with trials looming in New York (alleged hush money payments to adult actress Stormy Daniels), Florida (classified documents), Georgia (election interference) and Washington, D.C. (also election interference) — most Americans already say they would consider a candidate “unfit for the presidency” if they were convicted of conspiring to overturn election results (58%), attempting to obstruct certification of an election (54%) or taking and hoarding classified documents (53%).

Fewer (40%) say the same of paying hush money to a porn star.

As usual, partisan differences are sizable, with roughly four out of five Democrats (78% to 83%) and more than half of independents (53% to 57%) saying convictions on the documents or election charges would make a candidate unfit to be president.

Still, a not-insignificant number of Republicans (25% to 32%) agree.

The question that could determine the outcome of the 2024 election is whether these Republicans will continue to agree if and when Trump is actually convicted — and how such attitudes will influence their votes.

For now, the vast majority of Republicans seem likely to stick with Trump no matter what happens in the courtroom. Just 10% to 14% think he is guilty of the listed crimes; just 16% think a conviction in the coming months would be “fair.”

How Americans say they would view a Trump conviction

When asked which candidate they currently support for the GOP nomination, 79% of potential Republican primary voters say Trump and just 14% say former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley. When asked which candidate they would support if Trump is convicted of a serious crime, Trump’s support falls (to 62%) and Haley’s rises (to 26%) — but not nearly enough to upend the primary contest.

The number of potential Republican primary voters who think Trump should be allowed to serve as president again if convicted (68%) is 22 points higher than it was last June (46%).

Likewise, just 5% of Republicans and Republican leaners say they would vote for Biden in November if Trump is convicted between now and then — barely more than the 4% who are already planning to cast their general-election ballots for the Democratic incumbent.

Yet the data also contains warning signs for Trump. In a head-to-head match-up with Biden, for instance, he currently holds the narrowest of leads (45% to 44%). But when voters are asked how they would vote if Trump is convicted of a serious crime, Biden pulls ahead (46% to 40%).

This is partly because in that scenario, Trump loses 8 points among Republicans as more members of his own party say they wouldn’t vote or that they’re unsure what they would do. But the bigger and perhaps more durable shift comes among independents, who go from preferring Trump 43%-36% to preferring Biden 39%-38%.

Expectations about electability change as well. Right now, 45% of Americans believe Trump has the best chance of winning in November, compared to just 37% for Biden.

But in a scenario where Trump is convicted of a serious crime, those numbers flip to 39% for Biden vs. 35% for Trump — a 10-point decline for the former president that is driven almost entirely by Republicans (-15 points, to 70%) and independents (-9 points, to 37%).

No one can say whether any of these hypotheticals will pan out. But given all of the unknowns surrounding Trump’s legal troubles, the responses among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents to a pair of questions about how “important it is for Republican voters to have an alternative to Trump on the ballot during the 2024 primaries and caucuses” are revealing.

At the moment, 48% of Republicans and Republican leaners say having a Trump alternative on the GOP primary ballot is important; 46% say it’s not important. But in a scenario where Trump is convicted of a serious crime, those numbers shift dramatically — with just 32% saying it’s not important to have another option on the primary ballot and a full 56% saying the opposite.

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The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,594 U.S. adults interviewed online from Jan. 25 to 29, 2024. 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 Nov. 1, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% 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 2.7%.

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