Measuring the Trump conviction factor in the 2024 presidential race

by Byron York

If you’ve been keeping up with the news, you’ve probably heard a lot of speculation about the effect former President Donald Trump’s felony conviction will have on the 2024 presidential race. Here’s the real answer, so far: We don’t know.

The first thing to remember about momentous events and public opinion is that it takes a while for people to process the full import of truly consequential developments. With the Trump verdict, of course partisan zealots on both sides know exactly how they feel. But other, more normal people are not entirely sure. They want to think about it and see how things work out before they settle on what they think.

That’s where polls come in. The first survey out of the gate came from Morning Consult. The verdict was announced at about 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday, and by early Saturday morning, Morning Consult reported that a majority of those surveyed, 54%, approved of the guilty decision, and that 15% of Republican voters wanted Trump to drop out. A day later, a CBS News poll found that 57% said the jury reached the “right verdict,” but that not many people had changed their minds about the big picture of the 2024 race. Then an ABC/Ipsos poll found that 50% said the verdict was correct, 27% said it was not correct, and 23% don’t know if the verdict was correct or not.

What does that mean? Clearly, this is going to take a while to sort itself out. And the most important question is not “What do you think of the verdict?” or “Do you think Trump is guilty?” The question is, “If the election were today, would you vote for Biden or Trump?” That’s the same question pollsters have been asking for more than a year.

There are two places to look – national polls and swing-state polls. Nationally, the race has been close for a year and half, since the moment Trump declared his candidacy in November 2022. Trump has been ahead of President Joe Biden in the RealClearPolitics average of polls since last September, but by very narrow margins. His biggest edge was 3.5 points in mid-December 2023. Now, Trump’s lead is 0.5 points, meaning the race is essentially tied.

Trump’s national lead when his Manhattan trial began was 0.3 points, meaning the seven-week, heavily covered, much-discussed trial made little difference in the national race. But you couldn’t say so until the trial had been going for a few weeks. Now, it will take a few weeks to see if the verdict will have a significant effect on the national race.

Then there are the swing-state polls. They are critical to the race. Think about it this way. If Trump is able to win the states he won in 2020, which he can probably do, he then needs to win the Sun Belt states of Georgia and Arizona – Nevada would be a bonus but is not critical to this calculation. If he does that, he has to win just one of the northern tier of states, Pennsylvania, Michigan or Wisconsin, to win the presidency. That Electoral College math is what caused Democrats to freak out last November when the New York Times published a poll showing Trump leading in five of the six states.

Trump’s lead has been stable for months now. In the RealClearPolitics average, he is up by 4.8 points in Georgia, 4 points in Arizona and 5.4 points in Nevada. So he’s doing quite well in the Sun Belt. Up north, he is up by 2.3 points in Pennsylvania, 0.5 in Michigan and 0.1 in Wisconsin. Much, much closer.

Who wins the swing states will determine who wins the presidency. So that will be an important place to look for any change after the Trump verdict. Right now, anecdotal reports suggest not much is different. But, of course, not much has changed – the verdict just happened. Digesting it all will take some time.

For months, we have seen polls suggesting that a small number of voters who might be inclined to vote for Trump would reconsider, or decide that they will not vote for him, if he is convicted of a felony. Now he has been found guilty on 34 felony counts. As has been written here many times, the case against Trump was weak and politically motivated. But guided by a prosecutor who pledged to pursue Trump, a judge who is a donor to Biden and top Biden Justice Department official who joined the prosecution for purpose of trying Trump, a jury in deep-blue Manhattan convicted Trump on all counts. Perhaps that will be overturned on appeal long after the election. Perhaps not. But the next decision in the case will be made by voters.

Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.