Trump Indictments Haven’t Sunk His Campaign, but a Conviction Might
For Donald J. Trump, a new set of New York Times/Siena College polls captures a stunning, seemingly contradictory picture.
His 91 felony charges in four different jurisdictions have not significantly hurt him among voters in battleground states. Yet he remains weaker than at least one of his Republican rivals, and if he’s convicted and sentenced in any of his cases, some voters appear ready to turn on him — to the point where he could lose the 2024 election.
Mr. Trump leads President Biden in five key battleground states — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania, according to the Times/Siena polls. He has eaten significantly into Mr. Biden’s advantages among younger, Black and Hispanic voters, many of whom retain positive views of the policies Mr. Trump enacted as president. And Mr. Trump appears to have room to grow, as more voters say they are open to supporting the former president than they are to backing Mr. Biden, with large shares of voters saying they trust Mr. Trump on the economy and national security.
But the results reveal the complex way voters continue to view Mr. Trump, his presidency and his legal problems.
The polls found that, for the most part, Mr. Trump is politically surviving the criminal charges against him before voting in the G.O.P. primary begins. He leads Mr. Biden by between 4 and 10 percentage points in five of the six battleground states surveyed. In a sixth state, Wisconsin, Mr. Biden had a slim lead. A majority of voters say Mr. Trump’s policies helped them personally. Roughly the same proportion of voters say they’ve been hurt by Mr. Biden’s policies.
The former president’s showing in these head-to-head polls appears to stem in equal measure from Mr. Biden’s vulnerabilities, Mr. Trump’s strength and the sour mood of the electorate and its pessimism about the economy. The surveys underscore the fact that, in close elections such as the past two presidential races and as 2024 is expected to be, even marginal changes in voting patterns can be enough to swing a state toward a candidate.
The core of Mr. Trump’s strength remains his perceived skill at managing the economy — at least insofar as he’s compared to Mr. Biden. More than half of voters say the economy is in poor shape, despite a multimillion-dollar push by Biden allies to promote his efforts to rebuild the country after the pandemic. As voters perceive the country heading down the wrong track, Mr. Trump appears to be benefiting from being out of the White House, out of the spotlight and out of responsibility when things go bad.
Voters trust Mr. Trump more than Mr. Biden to manage the economy by a margin of 22 percentage points. On the economy, Mr. Trump is more trusted across every age group, among white and Hispanic voters and across the educational spectrum. In most of these states, the share of voters who say they’re voting based on the economy — as opposed to social issues — has increased since the midterm elections last November.
“Jobs are down because Biden didn’t know how to handle the pandemic,” said Monica Fermin, 51, from Allentown, Pa. “Trump didn’t know at first but Biden was even worse.”
Ms. Fermin, who immigrated from the Dominican Republic as a teenager, worried that Mr. Biden’s immigration policies have put additional economic strain on the country. She voted for Mr. Biden in 2020 over concerns about Mr. Trump’s temperament, but this time around her concerns are largely focused on Mr. Biden. “Biden is too old and doesn’t have the capacity mentally,” she said. “We need somebody stronger. I think Trump can deliver this time.”
Mr. Trump, however, remains in a weaker position than such gains might make it appear.
If the former president is convicted and sentenced — as many of his allies expect him to be in the Jan. 6-related trial held next year in Washington, D.C. — around 6 percent of voters across Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin say they would switch their votes to Mr. Biden. That would be enough, potentially, to decide the election.
Kurt Wallach, 62, a registered Republican from Maricopa County in Arizona, said he voted for Mr. Trump in 2020, and thought the former president had performed generally well in office, except for the start of the coronavirus pandemic. But now, considering the pending criminal cases, his views have shifted.
“If he got convicted, I’d say great, put him out of the race, let’s get another Republican,” Mr. Wallach said. “If he’s not been convicted then I’d probably vote for Trump.”
Dakota Jordan, a 26-year-old also from Maricopa County, did not vote in the 2020 election. He said that he would rather not have Mr. Trump in office at all, but that “given the choices,” he would vote for him over Mr. Biden, absent a criminal conviction. “If he was convicted, there’s absolutely no way — I can’t elect a criminal as my leader,” he said.
Indeed, Mr. Trump remains broadly unpopular.
A majority of swing state voters view him negatively. And the Times/Siena polls show that another Republican candidate, the former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, would outperform Mr. Trump against Mr. Biden by 3 percentage points in these six states. In a matchup that pits Mr. Biden against a generic Republican candidate, the Republican candidate wins by 16 percentage points.
Mr. Trump performs better against Mr. Biden than his main rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who has tried to anchor his campaign against Mr. Trump on the idea that the former president who lost the 2020 election cannot possibly win another. These polls significantly hamper Mr. DeSantis’s arguments about electability.
Even in a weaker position than some of his rivals, Mr. Trump has pulled together a surprisingly diverse coalition for a Republican.
Among voters under 30 — usually a core Democratic Party constituency — Mr. Trump is only one percentage point behind Mr. Biden. Such a result would seem implausible if it didn’t track with trends seen in many public and private polls. In 2020, Mr. Biden won that age group by 33 percent in these states.
Younger voters say they trust Mr. Trump over Mr. Biden on national security and the economy — saying that the latter is crucial to their vote by a two-to-one margin over social issues like abortion and democracy.
“How Biden has handled the conflict in the Middle East is easily the biggest factor for me,” said Hamza Rahman, 21, of Warren, Mich., who said he was concerned about America’s involvement in several global conflicts and has relied on social media sites like TikTok to help understand what’s really happening on the ground.
Mr. Rahman, who voted for Mr. Biden in 2020, is considering Mr. Trump this time but said he struggled with the choice. “I’m so frustrated with Biden, but Trump is not great either,” he said. “It’s like picking from a sword or a dagger.”
Mr. Trump’s gains among voters of color — especially voters without a college degree, and especially men — is pronounced and follows recent trends. In these polls, the more diverse a battleground state is, the better Mr. Trump performs against Mr. Biden. Mr. Trump leads Mr. Biden by 10 percentage points in Nevada, six in Georgia and five in Arizona — all states that Mr. Biden won in 2020 with a coalition made up of suburban voters and voters of color.
Mr. Trump’s 22 percent support among African Americans is both a modern-day first for a Republican and a sizable improvement over the 8 percent he had in the same states in Times/Siena polling in 2020.
“I like what Trump is for,” said John Royster, 55, a truck driver from Atlanta who is Black and voted for Mr. Biden in 2020. “Sometimes he tells untruths, but he says what’s on his mind — I can appreciate that.”
Mr. Trump has come a particularly long way with Hispanic voters.
He began his 2016 campaign by declaring that Mexico was sending rapists and criminals across the border, and he earned the support of 28 percent of Hispanics nationally in that election, according to Pew Research Center. In 2020, Mr. Trump’s support among Hispanics rose to 36 percent in his contest with Mr. Biden, according to Pew.
Mr. Trump now has support from 42 percent of Hispanic swing-state voters. And he does better among Hispanic voters than his top two rivals, Ms. Haley and Mr. DeSantis. Mr. Trump’s team is trying to build on those gains, booking an interview with Univision that will be broadcast this week, and targeting appeals at immigrants from Latin America — particularly in parts of Florida — who are hostile to anything branded “socialism.”
For many Hispanic voters, the state of the economy has played a large role in their candidate choice. Hispanic voters are three times more likely to say economic issues are important in deciding their vote than social issues, and are 20 points more likely to trust Mr. Trump over Mr. Biden to handle the economy.
Elaine Ramirez, 38, a Democrat from Las Vegas, said Mr. Biden vowed to help the economy and lower inflation — promises she said he has failed to deliver.
“I think for me it’s all the broken promises from Biden that make me want to switch to Trump,” said Ms. Ramirez, who voted for Mr. Biden in 2020 and is considering voting for Mr. Trump. “In 2020, I didn’t like what Trump had to say and his womanizing wasn’t great. But Trump is also more dominating and aggressive and maybe we do need someone like that to fix our economy and our country.”
The New York Times/Siena College polls of 3,662 registered voters in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were conducted by telephone using live operators from Oct. 22 to Nov. 3, 2023. When all states are combined, the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 1.8 percentage points. The margin of sampling error for each state is between 4.4 and 4.8 percentage points. Cross-tabs and methodology are available here.
Alyce McFadden contributed reporting.