Trump Rises in the Polls Post-Indictiment

Trump Rises in the Polls Post-Indictiment

The Context: 

As of Feb. 4, 2024, Donald Trump, the former president and 2024 Republican presidential candidate, has been charged with a combined 91 felony counts in two state courts and two federal district courts. He has also faced two key civil lawsuits. Regardless of whether he is convicted in the criminal cases or incarcerated in the criminal cases, he will still remain eligible to run for president in the upcoming elections.

In New York, Letitia James, the state’s attorney general, filed a civil suit against Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Allen Weisselberg, Trump’s former aide. On Sept. 26, 2023, New York Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron ruled that Trump and his co-defendants had committed fraud. James  alleged that the former president sent fraudulent reports about his property values to lower his taxes or improve the terms of his loans, while simultaneously inflating his net worth. Trump has denied all wrongdoing, and his attorneys have argued that inflated values were part of his business skill. Although this case is civil, not criminal, it could result in the removal of his authority to make major decisions about his New York, Florida and Chicago properties. James argued for a fine of $370 million, a ban against Trump and his sons from running businesses in New York and a commercial real estate ban for five years.

In Manhattan, Trump has been involved in two civil  lawsuits with journalist E. Jean Carroll, who acccused Trump of sexual assault in a department store dressing room in the mid-1990s. Following his denial, she sued him for defamation and a battery claim. In May 2023, a jury determined Trump was liable for sexual abuse and Carroll was awarded $5 million. Although Trump attempted to delay the second lawsuit, he was ordered to pay Caroll $83.3 million on Jan. 26. However, Trump and his legal team have pledged to appeal  the decision.

Additionally, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg brought felony charges against Trump, accusing him of falsifying business records to pay hush money to a porn actress who said she had sexual relations with him in 2006. A key witness will be Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, who sued the Trump organization for failing to reimburse his legal fees. The case is set to be heard on March 25.

The former president has also been charged with 37 federal felonies by Jack Smith, a special counsel in the U.S. Department of Justice, due to his possession of White House documents in Mar-a-Lago, a members-only club and Trump’s primary residence in Florida after his presidency. Documents included information about nuclear weapons, spy satellites and the military. Some charges include willful retention of national security information, obstruction of justice, withholding of documents and false statements. The indictment centers on the refusal to give back documents to the government, despite repeated requests.

Trump is facing additional charges in Fulton County, Georgia, where District Attorney Fani Willis has brought a racketeering case against Trump and 18 others, alleging that they attempted to manipulate the results of the 2020 election. Although this is a large case for a local prosecutor, there is evidence of Trump calling the Georgia secretary of state to “find” 11,780 votes for him after losing the state to Biden by 0.3%. 

Finally, Smith has also charged Trump with four federal felonies as he tried to maintain power despite losing the 2020 election. A trial was set on March 4, but a federal judge in the case postponed it on Feb. 2 without setting a new date.

However, despite Trump’s tumultuous legal situation, his bid for the Republican nomination is not currently facing significant difficulties. The only notable challenger to his campaign is Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor and former ambassador to the U.N. All other candidates, such as Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson dropped out of the race before or after the Iowa caucuses. Although Haley is persistent, Trump won the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary decisively, winning 98 out of 99 counties in Iowa and more than 50% of all votes in both states. 

However, in over 30 states, most notably Colorado and Maine, there have been cases filed regarding whether or not Trump should be on the 2024 election ballot. The legal theory is that the former president is ineligible to serve again under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. They argue that Trump’s attempt to steal the 2020 election and alleged incitement of the Jan. 6 insurrection satisfy the criteria.

Although a Trump-Biden rematch is likely, many voters are not happy with this prospect. Both candidates are unpopular within their own parties, and there are concerns about both of the candidates’ ages. According to a poll by CNN, 59% of Americans do not have a positive view of Biden, and 66% believe he doesn’t deserve reelection. Similarly, 55% have a negative opinion of Trump and 63% view his policies as more extreme.

Republican Perspective: 

Though these indictments cast Trump in a particularly negative light among the Democratic party, for many Republicans and Trump supporters, they have only added to his appeal. In fact, when Trump was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury on hush money charges on March 30, 2023, RealClearPolitics reported his popularity rating to be at 45.9%. By the next week, on April 8, 2023, his rating had shot up to 52%, a 6.9% increase in his lead in the Republican nomination race. 

Although there have been occasional declines, Trump’s popularity has increased in polls since the rest of his indictments, according to RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight.

“Since Trump’s indictments have begun, there’s an obvious positive trend line to Trump’s popularity among Republican voters,” Director of the University College London Centre on U.S. Politics Thomas Gift said in an interview with Newsweek. “To me, this is broadly consistent with the indictments helping Trump with the primary electorate.”

Trump’s rise in popularity after the indictments can be attributed to some supporters’ claims that the charges are an illegitimate attack on the former president. These beliefs are deeply divided among party lines. According to an Associated Press poll taken about Americans’ opinions on the legitimacy of the charges, 85% of Democrats believe Trump’s actions were truly illegal, while only 16% of Republicans believe that to be the case. 

These polls corroborate how supporters of Trump have turned to advocate for him out of sympathy in the face of his charges, claiming him to be a victim of unjust legal action. David Redenbaugh, a Republican Trump supporter from Iowa, claims the indictments are a major motivating factor in his support of the candidate. 

“The more they indict Trump, the more it would make me want to vote for him in the general election because I think he’s being treated unfairly,” Redenbaugh said. “These are clearly political prosecutions.”

Some of those rallying behind Trump believe that the indictments against him are an attack on his supporters by a “rigged” political system. These beliefs have thus provoked further support for the former president. 

“[Trump supporters] repeated Trump’s unfounded claims that he was the subject of a politically motivated ‘witch hunt’ and said they believed the charges showed the system was rigged against him – and, by extension, them,” according to CNN campaign producer  Katie Sullivan, who summarized the opinions of 40 interviewed with Trump supporters from a variety of states regarding Trump’s 91 criminal charges. 

Similar to the “witch hunt” ideology, “deep state” conspiracy theories about Trump’s indictments have garnered support by those who believe in them. The deep state refers to the conspiracy theory of an alleged network of non-elected government officials and private entities secretly controlling government policy. One Trump supporter, an Iowan named David Lage, believes that the deep state is trying to “make Trump look bad” through the indictments, while Iowan Don Newton believes Trump deserves support because of the deep state’s alleged “attacks.”

“There were people in the ‘deep state’ that were working against him and tried to get him accused of treason and all these things,” Newton said. “It’s all just a bunch of bull and I think [Trump] ought to get a medal.”

Some also consider the charges levied against Trump as a sign of his fierce attitude. In fact, some of the legal processes regarding his charges have become a trend. A recent phenomenon has been Trump’s mugshot taken at an Atlanta jail after he was indicted over his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state. The mugshot went viral on social media platforms after its release. In a variety of TikTok videos about the photo, including one made by CNN and the DailyMail, many in the comments claimed Trump to be “iconic” and the best president of their lifetime. Others regard Trump’s mugshot as a representation of his resistance to his indictments and a reinforcement of the illegitimacy of them. 

“He looks defiant,” South Dakota Republican Phil Jensen said to CNN about the mugshot. “And I love it because he has every right to be.”

A common thread between the variety of motivations for supporting Trump following the indictments was that many of his supporters saw Trump as a victim after these rulings. Even those who see some of Trump’s actions as unethical still believe that the indictments against him are unjust. 

“Look, I don’t think [Trump is] an angel by any means, but the way [Democrats] go after him compared to everybody else … he went after [Democrats] with a lot more legitimacy than I see them going after him with,” said Iowa Republican Kevin, who chose not to share his last name. “I think it’s unfair.”

Despite his removal from the ballot in Colorado and Maine and his possible conviction, many supporters stand strong in their backing of Trump. According to NBC, a poll in Iowa found that 61% of likely Iowa Republican caucusgoers said their support for the former president would not be affected if he was convicted of a crime before November’s general election. Some are even outraged by his removal from the ballot and suspect that it will be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court which considered the matter on Feb. 8.

“I’m confident that the Supreme Court will overturn the Colorado decision,” Redenbaugh said. “One elected bureaucrat shouldn’t decide who people can and cannot vote for.”

Democratic Perspective: 

Even though Trump’s ratings have improved among his Republican supporters, over half of the country believes Trump is guilty of the criminal charges he is facing regarding the election, insurrection and classified documents cases and therefore disapprove of his candidacy. According to a poll conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs research, 53% of Americans support the indictments against Trump regarding his attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Similarly, according to Politico, 52% of Americans believe Trump is guilty of the charges against him over his withholding of classified government documents. 

Democrats are particularly opposed to the prospect of Trump’s reelection following his indictments. A poll conducted by Politico found that 87% of Democrats believe Trump should be sentenced to prison if found guilty. This sentiment is partially influenced by the belief held by many Democrats that, were Trump to be elected president in 2024 despite his involvement in many criminal cases, the democracy in the United States would be at risk. 

David Walters, former Democratic governor of Oklahoma, believes that Trump must be punished for his actions in order to preserve the nation. 

“The long-term damage to the nation and our system of justice of not acting far outweighs the political and safety risk,” Walters told The New York Times in an interview. “We have an evil force in our midst that has to be confronted.”

Moreover, many Americans believe that Trump’s actions resemble the power of an authoritarian ruler. When Trump was asked by Fox News anchor Sean Hannity in a town hall in Iowa if he would use his presidency and the government to “abuse the law as retribution against anybody,” Trump responded by saying that he would not be a dictator other than on “day one” of his presidency. After this statement, according to PBS, Democrats and independents alike became concerned by the possibility of Trump abusing his power if elected to office. 

Douglas Kucmerowski, an independent voter, told PBS that he fears for the fate of the U.S. democratic system because Republicans continue to rally fervently behind a candidate who has openly threatened to act as a dictator and whois facing criminal charges.

“If this country is that confused that they can’t tell the difference between right and wrong and ex-presidents making statements that on day one he [Trump] will be a dictator, doesn’t anybody care about day two or three or four when he’s still a dictator?” Kucmerowski said.

Although debates over Trump’s guilt are largely divided along partisan lines, some Democrats are willing to cross party lines and vote for Haley to prevent the former president from being elected. According to NPR, thousands of Democratic voters in New Hampshire switched their party registration to undeclared in order to vote for Haley in the New Hampshire GOP primary. 

“We only care about damaging Donald Trump,” Robert Schwartz, a liberal and leader of Primary Pivot, a left-leaning group that aims to persuade “undeclared voters” to vote for Haley, told Politico. “For better or for worse, the only thing you can do if you really want to stop Trump is to vote for Haley.”

Marlborough Perspective: 

The general anxiety over both Trump’s campaign and the future of the U.S. if he were to be elected is reflected in the opinions of many Marlborough students, although certainly not all. In a survey sent out to Marlborough’s student body, out of 50 responders, 96% of respondents said they find the charges against Trump to be legitimate, and 98% believed that if Trump is convicted of these charges he would be unfit for presidency.

“It’s evident that Trump has participated in many illegal or questionable things and his indictment is beyond just and well deserving,” Dolores Yorkin ’25 said.

Additionally, 88% of Marlborough survey respondents said that they think Trump should be convicted for his involvement with the Jan. 6 insurrection, many cited the belief that Trump’s actions on that day threatened democracy as their reasoning. For example, Georgia Gray ’25 believes that Trump must face consequences for inciting the Jan. 6 riot because he put U.S. democracy in danger. 

“I think he violated what democracy means in this country and his lack of punishment thus far concerns me,” Gray said.

Despite a general opposition to Trump there are members of the Marlborough community who dislike the possibility of another Biden-Trump election in 2024. 

“As someone who is registered independent, and in the middle politically, I’m not entirely happy with either candidate,” an anonymous Upper School student said. 

The UltraViolet reached out to a student who supports Trump who  chose not to comment. 

Trump’s indictments have also raised concerns with some in the Marlborough community over the future of the American political system, especially as some members of the Upper School will be old enough to vote in the 2024 presidential election. As these students consider their choices for presidential candidates, the continued popularity of Trump in spite of his criminal charges has motivated some of them to mobilize their communities against his reelection and policies in general.  

“Given that I will be a first-time voter this upcoming presidential election, Trump’s indictments have compelled me not only to ensure I show up at the polls but also to vote during midterm, local and state elections,” Mattie Epstein ‘-25 said. “Trump’s ideological stances reverberate beyond his campaign; I think it is important that I use my power as a young voter to challenge his political stances in all capacities possible.”

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