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How Trump’s Guilty Verdict Could Shape the 2024 Presidential Election

Credit: Politico

The political landscape in the United States has always been dynamic, but recent events surrounding former President Donald Trump have added even more unpredictability to the mix. With Trump now officially a convicted felon following his guilty verdict in the New York hush-money case, many are left wondering how this will impact the 2024 presidential election. Could this be the turning point that changes the course of the election, or will it simply be another headline in an already tumultuous political career?

Polling Insights: A Mixed Bag

At first glance, the data suggests that Trump’s conviction might erode his support. For example, an April survey from CNN/SSRS found that while 76% of Trump supporters would stick with him regardless, 24% said they might reconsider their support if he was convicted. Similarly, a May poll from Emerson College indicated that 25% of voters would be less likely to vote for Trump if he were found guilty.

Further analysis by various pollsters who asked voters about their preferences with and without considering the conviction shows that Trump’s lead turns into a deficit. Without accounting for the conviction, Trump leads by 1 percentage point on average. When the conviction is factored in, he trails by 6 points. This suggests a potential shift in voter sentiment, but the picture isn’t entirely clear.

The Power of Words and Wording

It’s important to note that the wording of poll questions can significantly influence the results. For instance, the CNN/SSRS poll indicates that 24% of Trump supporters might reconsider their vote. However, “might reconsider” is far from a definitive “will change.” This uncertainty highlights a potential crisis of confidence among Trump supporters, but not necessarily a complete shift in allegiance.

An ABC News/Ipsos poll adds another layer of complexity. When asked what they would do if Trump were convicted, 16% said they would reconsider their support, but only 4% stated they would no longer support him. Meanwhile, 80% affirmed they would continue to back Trump. These figures underscore the resilience of Trump’s core base, even in the face of legal challenges.

Interpretations and Realities

Polls like the one from Emerson, which ask voters if a specific event makes them more or less likely to vote a certain way, should be approached with caution. Often, respondents use these questions to express approval or disapproval rather than literal voting intentions. Indeed, over three-quarters of those who said a conviction would make them less likely to vote for Trump were already planning to vote for Biden. This suggests that the actual impact on voter behavior may be less dramatic than it initially appears.

Other data supports this interpretation. In the horse-race polls that consider a conviction, Trump’s loss of support does not directly translate into gains for Biden. Instead, much of Trump’s lost support moves into the undecided column or to a hypothetical “someone else.” On average, Trump loses 6 points of support when a conviction is considered, but Biden gains only 1 point, while the undecided or third-party preference increases by 5 points. This pattern indicates that while some Trump supporters may feel uneasy, they are not necessarily ready to switch their votes to Biden.

Historical Context and Future Behavior

Historical context provides insight into how these dynamics might play out. In October 2016, the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape caused a temporary dip in Trump’s support. However, his numbers quickly rebounded, and within three weeks, he was polling better than before the tape’s release. This resilience suggests that even if some Trump supporters waver, many might eventually return to his camp.

The potential for a similar pattern in 2024 is significant. Although some Trump supporters might temporarily reconsider their stance, the likelihood of long-term defection seems low, especially given Trump’s proven ability to navigate and spin narratives. With five months until Election Day, there is ample time for Trump to mitigate the fallout from his conviction and rally his base.

The Impact on the Election

While the conviction may not lead to a massive shift in voter support, it is not without consequence. Even a small change, such as the average 1-point gain for Biden, could be crucial in a close race. In a highly competitive election, every vote counts, and minor shifts in voter sentiment can make a significant difference.

In conclusion, while Trump’s conviction is a major event, its impact on the 2024 presidential election may be more nuanced than headlines suggest. The loyalty of Trump’s base, combined with his ability to shape public perception, means that any changes in support are likely to be modest. However, in an election where margins are slim, even modest changes can be pivotal. As the campaign unfolds, the true effect of Trump’s legal troubles will become clearer, shaping one of the most anticipated elections in recent history.