Trump's legal battle: How Americans view the case and its political impact

Carl BialikU.S. Politics Editor and Vice President of Data Science
Taylor OrthDirector of Survey Data Journalism
April 06, 2023, 8:41 PM GMT+0

After former President Donald Trump's recent arrest and the filing of 34 felony counts against him, a new poll conducted by YouGov reveals a divided country on various aspects of the case. While more Americans approve than disapprove of the charges, many are unsure about the likelihood of conviction and how it might affect Trump's 2024 presidential candidacy.

The charges against Donald Trump

More Americans strongly or somewhat approve of recent charges against Trump (56%) than strongly or somewhat disapprove of them (33%). Nine in 10 Democrats approve (89%), compared to 47% of Independents and 29% of Republicans.

Approval of the criminal charges is greater among Americans who generally are less focused on cracking down on crime. Given the choice between a government focused on crime crackdowns or on reducing prison sentences for non-violent offenders, 73% of Americans who'd prioritize reducing prison sentences approve of the charges against Trump; just 43% who'd choose cracking down on crime approve of the charges.

Even as many approve of the charges against Trump, a large portion of Americans believe the charges are definitely or probably politically motivated (54%). Republicans are especially likely to say this (84%), though about half of Independents (53%) and 31% of Democrats say so, as well.

Trump's arrest and arraignment

While majorities of Americans approve of the practices of handcuffing (69%) and taking a mug shot (73%) of people who are arrested, many also approve of the decisions not to perform each of these actions on Trump during his recent arrest. Half of Americans (52%) approve of the decision not to handcuff Trump, while 35% disapprove. On the decision not to take Trump's mug shot, Americans are divided: 42% approve of the decision while 44% disapprove.

On these aspects of the arrest, as well, people who are generally more focused on cracking down on crime here are more likely to back measures in favor of the defendant. Approval of not handcuffing Trump was 16 points higher among people who'd prioritize cracking down on crime over reducing prison sentences for nonviolent offenders, and the equivalent gap was 23 points for approval of not taking his mug shot.

Trump's arrest made for a significant day in American history, as no other former president ever had faced criminal charges. How do Americans describe that day? Equal shares say it was a great or good day (31%) as say it was a terrible or bad day (31%), and 28% describe it as neither good nor bad.

While there have been some protests related to Trump's arrest, few Americans say they are likely to participate in one. Just 17% of Americans overall and 22% of Republicans say it is very or somewhat likely that they will protest the arrest.

What Americans think Trump did

Do Americans think Trump did the actions he has been accused of? Majorities say he definitely or probably had an affair with porn star Stormy Daniels (68%) and directed money to her to remain silent about the affair (65%). Slightly fewer — though still more than half — believe he definitely or probably falsified business records to conceal the money he paid Stormy Daniels (59%). And 58% believe he attempted to conceal damaging information and unlawful activity during the 2016 election, a claim made in the recent indictment against him. While vast majorities of Democrats believe Trump likely engaged in all of these actions, Republicans are less sure. More say he probably had the affair (48%) or paid for silence (46%) than say he falsified records (29%) or attempted to cover up damaging information during the election (30%).

The morality and legality of Trump's alleged actions

The poll asked Americans whether certain actions that Trump has been accused of are immoral — and whether they should be illegal. Large majorities say that cheating on your spouse (80%), falsifying business records (77%), and paying someone to remain silent about an issue that could affect an election (72%) are immoral actions. Two-thirds of people (68%) say the same about paying someone to remain silent about an affair while just 43% say so about having sex with a porn star.

In terms of whether these actions should be illegal, most say that falsifying business records (77%) and paying for silence over an election issue (65%) should be illegal. Fewer than half say it should be illegal to do each of the following: pay someone to remain silent about an affair (43%), cheat on your spouse (34%), to have sex with a porn star (21%).

A trial and the possibility of conviction

If Trump's case goes to trial, do Americans think the trial will be fair? More say it is very or somewhat likely (49%) that Trump will get a fair trial than say it is not very likely or not at all likely (35%). Most Democrats say it's very or somewhat likely (76%) while only 31% of Republicans do.

Just 35% of Americans think it is very or somewhat likely that Trump will be convicted of a crime in this case, and even fewer — 20% — think it's at least somewhat likely that he will serve time in prison.

Trump's political future

The charges against Trump have raised questions about how they might affect his potential 2024 candidacy. Americans are somewhat divided in this regard, with 32% believing the charges will make him a stronger candidate and 26% thinking they will weaken his candidacy. Another 25% believe the charges will not affect the strength of his candidacy. Among Democrats, 19% say the charges will strengthen Trump's chances while twice as many (38%) say they will weaken his candidacy. Among Republicans, 57% think his candidacy will be strengthened and just 18% think it will be weakened.

Regardless of how the charges facing Trump affect his candidacy, most Americans (58%) think Trump should not be allowed to serve as president again if he is convicted in this case. This includes 82% of Democrats and 34% of Republicans.

— Linley Sanders contributed to this article

See the results for this YouGov poll

Methodology: This poll was conducted online on April 4 - 6, 2023 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. 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 March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 28% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 4%.

Image: Getty (Michael M. Santiago)

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