On May 31st, Trump was found guilty of all 34 felonies of falsifying business records. Trump is currently planning his appeal to these convictions and awaiting sentencing which will take place on July 11th. He could end up with prison time or a hefty fine as his non-violent felony convictions each carry a punishment of up to four years in jail. However, Judge Merchan may decide that Trump’s age, former president status, and current Republican presidential nominee status, makes jail time impractical and instead order probation or home detention. Still, he may deem Trump’s repeated violations of the court’s gag order as reason to show that no one convicted of a felony is above going to jail. 

While we wait for his sentencing, we can consider the political fallout as a felony conviction does not prevent someone from running for president. Trump will be accepting the Republican nomination for president in mid-July, making it the first time a presidential candidate will be a convicted felon. The big question now is how will the convictions affect his chances of returning to the White House? Or will they not have any effect at all?

According to a survey conducted by YouGov leading up to the verdict, Americans were divided on whether a conviction would have a positive or negative effect on Trump’s reelection campaign. While 31 percent of Republicans and leaning Republicans thought a conviction would have a positive effect, another 34 percent didn’t expect it to have any impact at all. On the other hand, 48 percent of likely Democratic voters thought the verdict would hurt Trump’s chances of being reelected, 29 percent thought there would be no effect, and 11 percent thought it may benefit him. 

An April survey from CNN/SSRS found that 76 percent of Trump supporters would support Trump regardless of the outcome of his hush money trial. 24 percent said they “might reconsider” their support for him if he was convicted. A May poll from Emerson College found that a guilty verdict in New York would make 25 percent of voters less likely to vote for Trump. 

In the Times/Siena battleground polls, voters were divided on whether Trump could even get a fair trial in New York. Just 35 percent of voters in the battleground states expected Trump to be found guilty compared to 53 percent who expected him to be innocent. However, there were also a lot of voters not even paying close attention to the trial. Only 29 percent of voters said they were paying “a lot” of attention to the trial and they were disproportionately Biden supporters. With so many voters doubtful of a conviction or not paying attention, the guilty verdict may come as a surprise and cost him some support. Although polls cannot tell us how voters will definitely respond to this verdict, they can be a good insight into voters’ minds. 

With his track record of political resilience despite numerous scandals, there is little reason to expect his loyal MAGA base to suddenly disappear after the guilty verdict or even imprisonment. Some moderate Republicans might have concerns about voting for a convicted felon, but his MAGA base might be further energized after the result of this “witch hunt.” Only 11 percent of Trump voters said a guilty verdict would make them less likely to vote for him, so the potential impact on his actual support is much smaller than it may appear. Many voters expressed deep reservations about Trump personally, yet 43 percent still believed that he will bring good changes to the country, compared with 35 percent who felt the changes will be bad. Even leading Republicans, many of whom attended the trial to display their loyalty, were quick to rally behind him after the convictions. Hence, it’s entirely possible he won’t lose any support at all.

Other polls support the theory that this conviction will not cause mass defections to Biden. These polls are not actually showing many Trump voters switching to Biden, but instead they move to undecided. Instead, the conviction will make some Trump supporters hesitant and stop identifying as Trump supporters for a while, but most of them will not go so far as to vote for Biden. It seems this drop in Trump’s support will be short-lived with these former supporters just voting for a third-party candidate or not voting at all. There is also a high likelihood that they will eventually get over their discomfort and return to Trump’s side. Election Day is five months away, so there is still plenty of time for Trump’s team to get voters to overcome any hesitations over voting for a convicted felon. If his team can successfully convince voters he did not get a fair trial, many may come back to vote for him. Although the conviction could cost Trump some support, it is not going to help Biden.

Trump needs more support than just his MAGA base and Republicans in order to win the election. He must depend on young, nonwhite, and irregular voters that typically vote Democrat and have not voted for him in the past. This is not Trump’s core of proven support and is a group of voters whose loyalty hasn’t yet been established, let alone tested. In the Times/Siena poll, 21 percent of Trump’s young supporters said they’d back Biden if there were a conviction. In comparison, only 2 percent of 65-and-older Trump supporters said the same. Similarly, 27 percent of Black voters who backed Trump flipped to Biden, compared with just 5 percent of white respondents. These voters are concerned about Trump’s demeanor and his approach to governing, so this guilty verdict is going to grow those concerns. 

The Times/Siena and Marquette Law polls both suggest that these young and nonwhite voters might be especially ready to revert to their traditional partisan leanings with the convictions. This would give Biden back his usual lead among young and nonwhite voters. Biden has been struggling with younger voters as they do not approve of the job he is doing and do not think he is handling the most important issues, such as the economy, immigration, and war between Israel and Hamas, very well. Thus, the convictions could help Biden with these groups. However, only 10 percent of young voters said they were paying close attention to the trial, so this big switch back to Biden may be overestimated. Younger voters are the most likely to have an unfavorable opinion of both Biden and Trump, as so-called “double haters.” Thus, even though the verdict may or may not revitalize support for Biden among young and nonwhite voters, Trump is counting on the support of so many voters who wouldn’t normally be expected to support him, so the convictions may lessen this support.

A meaningful number of Trump supporters are uncomfortable with the idea of supporting a felon. In October, about 7 percent said they would vote for Biden if Trump were found guilty in a criminal trial. A Marquette Law School poll found that a modest lead for Trump among registered voters nationwide, became a four-point Biden lead if Trump were found guilty. While these may not seem like huge numbers, anything could be decisive in an era of such close elections. We cannot forget that for eight years people have been predicting Trump’s political collapse, only to be proven wrong. He’s survived a recorded Access Hollywood conversation about groping women, impeachments, a Capitol riot, and much more. These convictions are yet another deterrence to vote for him. He lost before, so he can definitely lose again. Even if the polls continue showing the convictions are lessening his support, what people say and what they do doesn’t always align. We cannot risk another Trump Presidency and a convicted felon as our leader. In such a close race, anything could make a difference. As the Biden campaign stated “There is still only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: at the ballot box.”

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