Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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Many US voters see criminality but support Trump anyway

WASHINGTON – Donald Trump continues to march to the 2024 Republican presidential nomination with a commanding lead over his primary rivals, even as a strong majority of voters nationwide believe he has committed serious federal crimes, including a growing faction of Republicans, according to a new poll from The New York Times and Siena College.

The results show the remarkable degree to which Republican voters are willing to look past Trump’s legal jeopardy – he has been indicted four times in 2023 and faces 91 felony counts – and line up behind his potential return to power.

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

Yet, Trump continues to clobber his closest Republican competitors in the primary by more than 50 percentage points, pulling in the support of 64 per cent of Republican primary voters nationwide.

Ms Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador, is now in a distant second place, with 11 per cent, followed by Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, who has fallen to third, with 9 per cent.

The poll was conducted before a court ruling on Dec 19 injected more legal uncertainty into the 2024 presidential race.

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Trump is disqualified from holding office again because he engaged in insurrection leading up to the Jan 6 storming of the Capitol, a decision the former president plans to appeal to the US Supreme Court.

Trump’s primary lead has swelled since the summer, even though the share of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who believe he engaged in criminality rose to 27 per cent from 17 per cent in July.

Trump is leading not only because he dominates among the large share of Republicans who see him as innocent, but also because he is winning one in three Republican voters who think he engaged in serious criminality.

Support for Trump in the Times/Siena poll is so thorough that 62 per cent of Republicans think that if the former president wins the primary, he should remain the Republican Party’s nominee – even if he is subsequently convicted of a federal crime.

“What they’re doing to the man is a crime,” Mr James Howe, 81, a retired airline worker in Phoenix, said of Trump.

“There’s been nobody in the history of this country that so many people have tried to convict of a crime.”

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Windows for Biden

But there are stark warning signs for Trump about the impact of his legal jeopardy in a potential match-up with President Joe Biden.

More than one in five Republican voters think Trump has committed crimes, and 13 per cent of Republicans believe he should be found guilty in court of trying to overturn the 2020 election.

For now, Mr Biden is winning only one-third of Republicans who think Trump should be found guilty, leaving Mr Biden room to gain support.

Trump’s political and legal fates appear increasingly intertwined, with his lawyers seeking to delay his coming trials.

While Trump’s indictments do not appear to be an impediment to his potential nomination, the 32 per cent 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 they had not fully tuned into Trump’s legal travails.

The charges he faces are related to, among other things, his seeking to overturn the 2020 election, his alleged mishandling of classified documents and his hush money payments to a porn star in 2016.

Roughly half of the voters said they were paying only a little attention or none at all to the cases, with Democrats paying more attention than Republicans or independent voters.

It remains unclear whether any of the trials will begin before the general election next autumn, but Trump’s legal team is preparing for the likelihood that one of the cases could start as early as March.

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

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Polarised America

In many ways, public opinion about the accusations against Trump appears to have been refracted, if not warped, through the same polarised lens that colours so much of how Americans consume political news these days.

Him taking those classified documents home – you know, that’s obviously illegal. It’s against the law, but I don’t think it’s as big a deal as they’re making it,” said Mr Clifford McRoberts, 72, who lives in Bay Point, California, and operates a small online store.

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

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

A full 83 per cent of Republicans view Trump’s prosecutions as politically motivated. And 84 per cent of Democrats said he was charged because prosecutors believed he had broken the law.

Voters in the poll were also equally split – 47 per cent to 47 per cent – over whether Trump genuinely believed the election had been stolen or was knowingly making false claims. And, again, more than 80 per cent of both Democrats and Republicans sided with their political tribes.

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

Trump leads Mr Biden 46 per cent to 44 per cent among registered voters. But among those deemed likeliest to vote, Mr Biden actually edges Trump, 47 per cent to 45 per cent.

In a sign of Mr Biden’s weakness among registered voters, his level of support is actually lower than the share of voters – 47 per cent – who believe that Trump should be found guilty of trying to overturn the 2020 election.

Reservations about Mr Biden are undercutting concerns about Trump’s criminality for some voters.

Ms 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 “crooked businessman”, but has deep concerns about Mr Biden’s age and the economy.

For now, she is leaning towards the Democrat. “But do I feel confident in him doing another four years?” she said. “No, I don’t.”

When it comes to the presidential primary, the poll shows precious few signs of political vulnerability for Trump less than a month before balloting begins.

He is dominating Ms Haley and Mr DeSantis among Republican voters of every age and income level, in cities, rural areas and suburbs.

Trump is winning 80 per cent of GOP primary voters who do not think he committed serious crimes – and 34 per cent of those who think he did.

Trump’s rivals have repeatedly argued that the election will unfold state by state, beginning in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But the national picture remains bleak for them, with Ms Haley and Mr DeSantis each hovering near 10 per cent support.

Mr Vivek Ramaswamy, the businessman, is at 5 per cent in the poll, and Mr Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey who has made the loudest case that Trump’s conduct and legal cases make him “unfit” to return to the White House, had 3 per cent support. NYTIMES

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