POLITICO Magazine commissioned this poll because we thought, despite some initial polling shortly after Trump’s federal indictment, that we could dig deeper into the public’s sentiment. How much do people really understand about the charges facing Trump and do they believe he’s guilty? What kind of punishments do they think fit the crimes if he is convicted? And, of course, what impact could all of this have on Trump’s presidential candidacy?
The poll was conducted from June 27 to June 28, roughly three weeks after Trump’s federal indictment and nearly three months after Trump was criminally charged by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. The poll had a sample of 1,005 adults age 18 or older, who were interviewed online; it has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points for all respondents.
At this point, roughly half of the country believes that Trump committed the crimes alleged against him.
Forty-nine percent of respondents — including 25 percent of Republicans — said that they believe Trump is guilty in the pending federal prosecution, which alleges that he willfully retained sensitive government documents after leaving office and obstructed a subsequent federal investigation. A nearly identical 48 percent of respondents — including 24 percent of Republicans — believe that Trump is guilty in the Manhattan DA’s pending prosecution, which alleges that Trump falsified business records in connection with a payment to the porn star Stormy Daniels in the run-up to the 2016 election in order to keep her quiet about an alleged sexual relationship between the two.
On the question of timing, however, there was more unity.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents (62 percent) said that the trial in the pending federal prosecution should take place before the presidential election next November — a figure that includes nearly half of Republican respondents (46 percent). A lower number, but a still-solid majority, said that the trial should take place before the Republican primaries begin early next year (57 percent of all respondents, including 42 percent of Republican respondents).
The findings could bolster the position of federal prosecutors, who have been pushing for a trial date as early as this December. Trump is expected to try to drag out the proceedings for as long as possible, particularly because he would likely be able to shut the prosecution down if reelected. But the federal statute that governs the setting of trial dates requires judges to account for not only the defendant’s interest but “the best interest of the public” as well.
What should happen to Trump if he gets convicted? Forty three percent said he should go to prison, but most were willing to spare him jail time. Nearly a quarter of respondents said that Trump should incur no punishment at all (22 percent), while 18 percent said he should receive probation and another 17 percent said he should face only a financial penalty.
The results were roughly similar when respondents were asked what the punishment should be if Trump is convicted in Manhattan. Most respondents said that Trump should not go to prison and that he should instead receive either no term of imprisonment, probation, or a financial penalty only (21 percent, 17 percent and 22 percent, respectively).
In both instances, a clear partisan breakdown was evident. For the DOJ case, 73 percent of Democrats thought Trump should go to prison if convicted, compared to 16 percent of Republicans and 33 percent of independents. For the Manhattan DA’s case, 65 percent of Democrats backed prison time, compared to 14 percent of Republicans and 36 percent of independents.
The results also complicate the post-indictment narrative that the charges have improved Trump’s chances of winning his party’s presidential nomination. It’s true that he’s gained support in the polls since the indictments, but our survey suggests that they haven’t fundamentally changed Republicans’ opinion of his campaign. While 21 percent of GOP respondents said the federal indictment on mishandling classified documents made them more likely to support Trump, 23 percent said it made them less likely; fully 50 percent said it had no impact and 6 percent said they didn’t know. The results were similar for the Manhattan DA’s indictment over the hush money payment.
Among the broader public, a conviction in either case would be damaging to Trump’s electoral chances. An identical number — 41 percent of all respondents — said that a conviction in either the federal case or the Manhattan DA’s case would make them less likely to support the former president. Despite all the commentary that he’s Teflon Don, it’s clear that some of his missteps can cost him.
The results also suggest that the numbers could get worse as Americans learn more about the pending charges. Roughly one-third of respondents said that they are not particularly familiar with the allegations in either case.
That number could decrease as media coverage continues, particularly in the run-up to potential trials. A trial date in the Manhattan DA’s case is currently set to begin on March 25, though it is conceivable that, as a practical matter, Trump could have the nomination locked up by then if dynamics in the GOP primary do not change. So far, most of his opponents have struggled to articulate a message that distinguishes themselves from Trump while appealing to a voter base that is largely sticking with him despite his mounting legal problems.
The public’s preference for a relatively speedy trial date in the federal prosecution against Trump could prove tricky to accommodate. Many legal observers are skeptical that a trial is possible next year, particularly given the complexities of a case that involves classified documents and a defendant who has historically proven adept at mounting aggressive delay strategies.
Indeed, according to the most recent statistics available, the median time from filing to disposition in felony cases in the Southern District of Florida, where the federal case against Trump is pending, is nine months. But that figure is almost surely dragged down by the fact that the significant majority of federal criminal cases are resolved by guilty pleas and that very few trials in the district, if any, have posed the sort of complexities that the first-ever criminal prosecution against a former U.S. president will pose, particularly involving classified information.
Still, if prosecutors and the presiding judge want to look to the law and satisfy the public’s interest, they can point to the results from this poll.