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Former President Donald Trump had the opportunity for a quiet, off-hours arraignment after a Manhattan Grand Jury sent up an indictment on 34 charges in state court. His Secret Service officials would have preferred that, too, for safety reasons, but Trump took a hard pass, according to reporting by Rolling Stone. “He wanted a perp walk; he wanted daylight hours,” a law enforcement official involved in the security planning told the magazine. More specifically, Trump wanted a public spectacle to send a message to his supporters.
And that’s what he got. Outside the courthouse Tuesday, groups of supporters and protesters gathered, surrounded by possibly even more journalists ready to cover the history-making event. While U.S. Senators and representatives have been tried and even convicted of crimes, and so have leaders in other democracies, a former United States President has never been in this kind of situation before.
Between the spectacle and the monumental nature of the news, it’s a lot to take in. Most Americans agree that Trump’s alleged actions were illegal, but there are, unsurprisingly, partisan differences when it comes to what to do about that.
This is one of the many investigations and scandals that have followed Trump since the beginning of his presidency, from two impeachments to an ongoing investigation in Georgia over his interference in the 2020 election that could result in its own charges. But Americans seem to be familiar with the underlying facts of this specific case: In a Morning Consult survey from March 31, 82 percent of registered voters said they had heard some or a lot about a Manhattan grand jury’s vote to indict Trump on charges related to alleged payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels. The charges revealed Tuesday allege that Trump falsified business documents to cover up the payments in an attempt to influence his 2017 campaign for president.
Most Americans agree that this is illegal. In an Economist/YouGov poll of 1,500 U.S. adult citizens from April 1-4, which roughly covered the period between Trump’s indictment and arraignment, a decisive 69 percent majority say that, in general, failing to report having spent campaign money on payments in order to keep someone silent about an issue and affect the outcome of an election is a crime. There was a split by party identification, however: 90 percent of those who voted for Biden in 2020 said it was a crime, while a much smaller majority, 54 percent, of those who voted for Trump in 2020 said the same.
And results became even more partisan when the poll asked whether Trump, specifically, is guilty of falsifying business records to conceal hush money payments to a porn star. Eighty-two percent of Biden voters told the Economist/YouGov that they think Trump did falsify business records to cover up the hush money payment, while 54 percent of Trump voters said he did not. Eighty-three percent of Biden voters thought it was a “legitimate investigation,” while 85 percent of Trump voters thought it was a “witch hunt.” Meanwhile, a bare 50 percent agreed with the indictment in the same poll, with 85 percent of Biden voters agreeing and 78 percent of Trump supporters disagreeing. Americans seem to believe in the abstract that paying hush money to cover up an affair and then covering up the payment itself is probably bad, but may disagree about whether Trump actually did it and whether he should go to jail for it.
All of this makes it seem unlikely that the events of this week will cost Trump any supporters. Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene compared Trump to Nelson Mandela and Jesus ahead of his arraignment, framing the indictment in a narrative of political persecution. That attitude might help explain why Trump’s Republican support actually grew following the indictment. In a Yahoo! News/YouGov poll of U.S. adults conducted just as news of the indictment broke late last week, 57 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaners said they would support Trump in a hypothetical head-to-head 2024 Republican primary against his nearest would-be challenger, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who received only 31 percent. That represented an increase in support for the former president, who only two weeks before led DeSantis 47 percent to 39 percent in another survey conducted by the same pollster. In a Reuters/Ipsos poll released April 3, 48 percent of Republicans said they would support Trump for president despite the indictment, and support for DeSantis dropped 11 points from the same survey in mid-March.
Greene’s statements hint that she thinks this week’s events could make Trump more popular, and polling from the weeks leading up to the indictment shows that could possibly be true with his base. News of the impending indictment had been trickling out for weeks, and during that time Trump’s lead over DeSantis was generally increasing. All of it indicates that Trump’s legal troubles could make his supporters like him even more, and explains why he wanted a crowd outside of the courthouse; he is literally trying to rally support.
“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” Trump said, famously, at a rally in January 2016. He may be right that his core base of supporters won’t abandon him. But a majority of Americans overall seem to approve of the indictment and plenty of Republicans seem to disapprove of his actions — even if they may not want him to face charges. And that could translate to lost votes in the end: A YouGov poll released April 5 found that a plurality, 49 percent, thought that Trump should not be allowed to serve if convicted.
Other polling bites
- After a shooting in Nashville last week left six people dead, including three children, support for stricter gun control laws ticked up in a Morning Consult survey of almost 2,000 registered voters. About two-thirds said they supported stricter gun control laws, including 47 percent of Republicans, a ten-point increase from the last time Morning Consult surveyed on the issue in January. Overall support is almost as high as the 68 percent who told Morning Consult they supported stricter gun control measures in the wake of the Uvalde, Texas school shooting last year.
- The vast majority of Americans, 83 percent, rate the U.S. economy as “only fair” or “poor,” according to a March 1-23 Gallup survey, and only 23 percent think conditions are improving. An IBD/TIPP poll found that optimism about the economy has ticked up slightly compared to surveys over the past 16 months, but the 24.8 percentage point gap between investors and non-investors, with investors having much more optimism, is the largest the survey has recorded in more than 20 years.
- In other economic news, a Big Village Insights survey of 1,016 adults found that most Americans, 51 percent, have lost some confidence in the U.S. Banking System, over the past three months. But even after two banks, Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank, failed in March, 88 percent remained confident in their personal bank.
- Isn’t March supposed to go out like a lamb? The first week of April has brought severe weather across the U.S. An outbreak of tornadoes last weekend left at least 32 dead from Arkansas to Delaware, a second batch of storms that began Tuesday night and lasted through Wednesday morning left at least five dead in Missouri. On April 3, Gallup released a survey showing that 45 percent of U.S. adults in the South have been affected by severe weather in the last two years. Overall, about a third of Americans have been affected by extreme weather in the past two years.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.7 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 52.8 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10.1 points). At this time last week, 42.6 percent approved and 53.3 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -10.6 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 43.7 percent and a disapproval rating of 51.4 percent, for a net approval rating of -7.7 points.
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