After the Trump verdict, most Republicans say they're OK with having a criminal as president

Taylor OrthDirector of Survey Data Journalism
June 04, 2024, 7:16 PM GMT+0

Last week, Donald Trump was convicted on 34 felony charges in the hush-money case against him. Compared to before the verdict, the biggest changes we found in a post-conviction poll conducted between May 31 and June 2 are in Republicans' positions on felony, crime in general, and the presidency. They have shifted in a way that puts the verdict in a more favorable light and keeps Trump's candidacy viable. For example, fewer Republicans think it should be illegal to pay hush money for the purposes of influencing an election than did a year ago, and more now say felons should be allowed to become president than did a few months ago.

Other reactions to the verdict are decidedly partisan and polarized. While the trial's effect on the election remains to be seen — and may prove impossible to separate from other news throughout the campaign — there are few signs of the verdict having an immediate and sizable impact on how Americans view Trump or his chances of winning. Post-conviction, Trump defectors have not materialized to the extent they claimed they would before the verdict.

Evaluations of Trump and his actions

By some measures, views of Trump have changed little or not at all in the aftermath of his criminal conviction. The shares of Americans with favorable (41%) and unfavorable (55%) opinions of Donald Trump remain unchanged in surveys conducted just before and just after his conviction.

Polling from earlier this year and after Trump's conviction has found that more characterize Trump than Biden as a criminal. The most recent results show a 4-percentage-point increase in the share describing Trump this way — a statistically insignificant change.

But on broader questions asked in the survey before questions about Trump, Republicans' opinions have shifted in ways consistent with their continued support for him and his candidacy. For example, fewer Republicans now choose being "a criminal" as among the three traits they find least desirable in a president, compared to in February, when we last asked. The drop is 15 points, to 19% from 34%. Independents are also less likely to say this than they were a few months ago, with a drop of 14 points, to 38% from 52%.

Many Republicans have also changed their minds on whether felons should be allowed as presidents. In April, just 17% of Republicans told us that convicted felons should be allowed to be president. The share of Republicans holding this belief rose to 58% in our latest survey, conducted after Trump became a convicted felon and with a slightly different wording on the question. That marks a 41-point increase over two months. Among Americans overall, 14% said felons should be allowed to become president in April, compared to 34% who now say this.

Republicans also have become less likely to say the actions Trump has been accused of in this case — when described generally and without mentioning him — should be illegal or are immoral.

Compared to a year ago, fewer Republicans now say it should be illegal to have sex with a porn star (a decline of 12 points), to pay someone to remain silent about an affair (-14), and to pay for silence about an issue that may affect the outcome of an election (-14). Democrats also have become less likely to say it should be illegal to cheat on your wife or to have sex with a porn star, compared to a year ago.

The perceived immorality of these actions among Republicans has dropped, too. After Trump's conviction, fewer Republicans classify certain of Trump's actions as immoral, compared to a year ago. This includes having sex with a porn star (-9), paying for silence about an affair (-10), and paying for silence about an issue that may affect the election (-11). Unlike with legality, the shares of Democrats saying these actions are immoral generally has increased.

Republicans are less likely to believe certain allegations against Trump now, after he has been convicted, than they were a year ago when he was first arraigned. Slightly fewer now think he definitely or probably directed hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels (-11) and that he attempted to conceal damaging information and unlawful activity during the 2016 election (-11).

Reactions to the verdict

Many Americans did not have strong expectations of what the verdict would be prior to its announcement on May 30. A few days before the jury made its decision, Economist/YouGov polling found that just 23% thought Trump would be convicted, 36% thought he wouldn't, and 40% were unsure. In our latest post-conviction survey, 93% of Americans had heard the news of the verdict, and more agreed than disagreed with it.

About half of Americans (51%) believe Trump committed the crimes he was convicted of in the hush-money case, while 31% think he did not. The vast majority of Democrats believe Trump is guilty. At least one in five Independents and Republicans are unsure. Independents are more likely to agree with the verdict than to disagree with it. Two-thirds of Republicans think Trump didn't do it, while just 14% think he did.

Slightly more describe the day of Trump's conviction as a bad or tragic day for the country (38%) than as a good or great day (29%). Among a series of adjectives offered in the poll, Republicans primarily respond to the news with disappointment and anger. About half of Democrats feel each of relief and happiness. Some are experiencing surprise and vindication.

Evaluations of the criminal justice system

Despite not changing many minds on Trump himself, Trump's trial and conviction appear to have had some influence on how Americans view the criminal justice system. Most Republicans say their confidence in it has declined as a result of the verdict, while most Democrats say their confidence in it has increased or remained unchanged. Other surveys conducted before and after the trial find similarly polarized changes in Americans' trust in the jury system.

A majority of Republicans think Trump is treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than other people are (80%), while only 7% of Democrats agree. 64% of Democrats believe he is treated more leniently. The share of Republicans saying Trump receives harsher than average treatment has risen 7 points since last September.

Nearly half of Americans (46%) believe that the prosecution in the hush-money case has been biased against Trump. Somewhat fewer say the same about the judge (38%) or jury (36%). Majorities of Republicans believe all three entities were biased against him, while majorities of Democrats think they have been fair to him.

Belief in the ability for a person to get a fair trial has declined among Republicans, especially when the person on trial is high-status. In the past year, the share of Republicans saying it is very or somewhat likely that a wealthy and powerful defendant accused of a crime will get a fair trial has fallen 26 points, to 45% from 71%. The number of Republicans saying an ordinary defendant will likely get a fair trial also fell 20 points during this period, to 58% from 78%.

Effects on the 2024 election

With the November election just five months away, one question on many people's minds is how the guilty verdict will affect Trump's campaign. There are many challenges in gauging if and how a certain event will cause people to change who they are planning to vote for — and even a small number of people changing their vote intention could shift the outcome in a close race.

Question wording and design also play a significant role in measuring if and how people are changing their minds.

Our latest survey finds that 7% of registered voters say Trump's conviction led them to rethink their vote. A follow-up question asks how specifically they were rethinking their vote, and found that 3% of registered voters say the verdict made them less likely to vote for Trump, while 2% say it makes them more likely to.

An earlier post-conviction survey asked the question a different way and produced similar findings: 5% of U.S. adults say they planned to vote for Trump before the conviction but no longer plan to vote for him, while 3% say the opposite — that they didn’t plan to vote for Trump before the conviction but plan to vote for him now.

But when Americans are asked more broadly about how the verdict affects their vote — rather than how it affects the specific candidate they were voting for, or whether they will go so far as to switch their vote — far more say it had an impact. Again, the impact is about equal in both directions: 27% say the verdict makes them less likely to vote for Trump and 26% say more likely.

The variation in survey results likely stems in part from expressive responding, a common survey phenomenon that in this case could manifest as a respondent claiming that an event will affect their vote — a claim made more as a signal of their political identity than as an indication of a real change in intent. The first two surveys described above asked direct, specific questions about possible changes in who people were voting for or likely to vote for, which could reduce expressive responding. If those surveys do reduce expressive responding, then the more modest estimates from those surveys would be more reliable indicators of shifts in voter intentions. All three surveys agree that the net effect on voting intention is essentially zero, with Trump gaining about the same amount of support as he is losing.

With the current tools available to us, we find little evidence of a sizable shift in voting intentions in the aftermath of Trump's conviction. Indicators that earlier signaled potential Republican defection have now cooled. For instance, a few months ago, just 49% of Republicans said they'd be willing to vote for a presidential candidate convicted of a felony under some circumstances. After Trump's conviction, that number has increased 25 points: 74% now say they'd vote for a felon under certain circumstances.

A survey a year ago found that 51% of Republicans thought Trump should be allowed to serve as president in the future if he were to be convicted of a crime in the hush-money case. Now, 78% do — a 27-point increase.

Three-quarters of Republicans (76%) think the Republican Party should continue to support Trump as the party's nominee, despite his recent conviction. 13% say it should not support him and 11% are not sure.

Expectations for the future

Few Americans see Trump's conviction as a turning point in the election. Just 8% describe it as the most important event in the 2024 election so far.

More expect Trump (41%) to win than Biden (35%), by a similar margin as polling showed before Trump’s conviction. Roughly equal shares of Americans say the guilty verdict will increase Trump's chances of winning (30%) as say it will decrease them (25%), have no effect (25%), and are not sure (20%).

While 46% of Americans think Trump should definitely or probably serve time in prison as a result of his recent conviction, just 15% think he will end up doing so. A larger share (45%) say the verdict will likely be overturned on appeal.

Trump still has three other criminal cases pending against him. The post-conviction poll finds that Americans may be struggling to keep track of these. The cases include one about January 6 and federal elections, the Georgia elections case, and the classified documents case. To test whether Americans are aware of these three unresolved cases, we asked respondents to tell us how many there are. Just 19% of Americans know the correct number. More Democrats than Republicans know the number of cases. But more Democrats also overestimate the number of cases than get it right. Many Republicans say they are unsure.

Polling conducted the week before Trump's conviction in the hush-money case found that many Americans (but few Republicans) want the trials in his other three cases to begin before the 2024 election, though they are currently unlikely to do so. The charges Trump was recently convicted on may have less impact than others yet to be resolved. In the same poll, fewer described the hush-money case as very serious than said the same about each of the other unresolved cases.

Half of Americans (49%) believe that other U.S. presidents definitely or probably will be convicted of crimes in the future. One-quarter (26%) say they won't be, and the rest aren't sure.


— Carl Bialik contributed to this article

See the results for this YouGov poll

Methodology: The poll was conducted among 1,110 U.S. adult citizens from May 31 - June 3, 2024. 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 November 1, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 31% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 4%.

Image: Getty (Spencer Platt)