Americans are split on whether Donald Trump's indictment is the result of a witch hunt

Linley SandersData Journalist
April 05, 2023, 4:10 PM GMT+0

On Tuesday, former President Donald Trump turned himself in to the Manhattan district attorney and pleaded not guilty to felony charges over his alleged involvement in hush-money payments to a porn star during the 2016 presidential election.

Half of U.S. adult citizens (50%) agree with the New York grand jury’s decision to indict the former president, according to this week's Economist/YouGov poll — which was conducted after news reports that Trump would be indicted in New York but before Tuesday’s arrest. More than one-third (36%) disagree with it. (A subsequent YouGov poll after Trump's arrest found that 56% of U.S. adults approve of the charges.)

Americans have strong opinions about Trump's indictment: More than twice as many adults with an opinion either "strongly agree" or "strongly disagree" with the decision than somewhat agree or somewhat disagree. Opinions are particularly strong among Democrats and Republicans. Four in five Democrats agree with the decision to indict Trump, with 62% strongly agreeing with it. One in 10 Democrats disagree with it. More than seven in 10 Republicans disagree with the indictment, including 59% who express strong disagreement. Just 18% agree with the decision.

The indictment itself revealed that Trump was charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. By 47% to 25%, Americans say that the former president did falsify business records in efforts to conceal a hush-money payment — though 27% are uncertain. Republicans are far less likely to say Trump falsified records than to say he did (16% vs. 50%).

Republicans have become less likely in recent weeks to say that it is a crime for a candidate for elected office to pay someone to remain silent about an issue that may affect the outcome of an election — in responding to a question that precedes the ones about Trump and doesn't mention him. While 73% of Republicans said this would be a crime in a mid-March poll, that fell to 60% in the following week and is now at 47%.

Republicans are also now less likely to say it is a crime for a candidate to fail to report such hush-money payments. While a majority of Republicans (57%) say the lack of reporting would be a crime, that's down from 76% three weeks ago.

In the days since the indictment, Trump and his team have chalked it up to a "disgusting witch hunt." Americans are divided on many things about this case, and the characterization of it as a witch hunt is among them: 45% say an indictment would be more the result of a legitimate investigation while 40% say it would be more of a witch hunt.

Trump has called Manhattan — where his trial will take place — a "very unfair venue," citing its low support of Republican candidates (in the 2020 presidential election, Trump won 12.3% of the vote in Manhattan). There is a divide among Americans on whether Trump can get a fair trial in New York: 39% say he can, while 40% say he cannot.

Two-thirds of Democrats (65%) say Trump can get a fair trial in New York. Most Republicans agree with Trump: 69% of them say he cannot get a fair trial in New York. Two-thirds of people who think Trump did falsify business records expect that he can get a fair trial (64%), compared to 10% of people who think he did not.

Just as many Americans think Trump is very or somewhat likely to be convicted (40%) as think he is not too likely or not likely at all to be convicted (40%). A majority of Democrats say a conviction is very or somewhat likely (56%), compared to 35% of Independents and 27% of Republicans.


—Carl Bialik and Taylor Orth contributed to this article

See the toplines and crosstabs from the Economist/YouGov poll conducted on April 1 - 4, 2023 among 1,500 U.S. adult citizens.

Methodology: Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. 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 June 1, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (34% Democratic, 31% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 3%.

Image: Getty Images (Joe Raedle)