Making sense of the post-Trump conviction polls

Examining the shifts in public opinion following Trump’s felony conviction

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published June 14, 2024 5:45AM (EDT)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a dinner at Mar-a-Lago on June 5, 2024 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a dinner at Mar-a-Lago on June 5, 2024 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images)

Following Donald Trump’s historic criminal felony conviction for lying about hush money payments to hide potentially damaging information from voters before the 2016 election, I felt the urge to walk down to Trump Tower here in Chicago. It was raining outside. I did not use my umbrella. As I leaned up against Trump Tower, I watched an architecture boat tour travel down the Chicago River. I looked at the people walking past the building on the sidewalk above me. Many of them paused to look up, like me, at Trump Tower before they ambled along in the rain. I imagine we were all thinking the same thought: How did we get here and what happens now?

As I stood beneath Trump Tower, I thought about a scene from one of my favorite films, Michael Mann’s “Heat." I imagined Trump on the screen walking into a diner and asking to speak to the manager. “My name is Donald Trump and my parole officer told me to come by and see you about a job." In the film, the character (played by Dennis Haysbert) is then humiliated by the manager and told “the rules of the game” about how he will be forced to work multiple jobs, unpaid, and then kick back a percentage of his check for the “privilege” of working at the diner. If he complains or is late or otherwise is an annoyance – or for any other reason – the manager will call the parole officer and report him drunk or high or stealing and get him sent back to prison. But I know that such a thing will, in all probability, not happen to Trump. He is a very rich white man and a former president. Nevertheless, one can dream.

My fantasy about Donald Trump being suitably punished and humbled for his many crimes signals a much larger dynamic about emotions, feelings, intuitions, and those so-called “vibes” that so many in the news media, punditry, and political class are obsessed with. There are so many “vibes” that I cannot keep track of them all. All across the mainstream news media there are “vibes” about the economy, “vibes” about President Biden and his age, “vibes” about the overall direction of the country, and “vibes” about a range of other matters of public concern – of varying importance or grounding in reality.

On Monday, Trump had his pre-sentencing interview, conducted via video conferencing. The Associated Press described the less than thirty-minute interview as “uneventful.”

The American people should be cautious of anyone with a public platform who claims to be channeling these “vibes” – which are the equivalent of reading tea leaves and chicken bones or coffee grains in a cup. These “vibes” lead to lots of sloppy thinking and writing; In many ways these “vibes” are an empty signifier that can mean whatever a given person wants them to. As a practical matter, in an age of hyperpolitics, an unquenchable attention economy, and a news cycle driven by “content” as opposed to truth-seeking and real meaning with the proper context, writing and otherwise commenting up these “vibes” is something comparatively easy for reporters, journalists and the pundits to do with their “hot takes” and other writing and commentaries. 

On this, I agree with Charles Sykes at the Atlantic who recently warned: “In the age of Trump, it is also important that members of the media not be distracted by theatrics generally. (This includes Trump’s trial drama, the party conventions, and even—as David Frum points out in The Atlantic—the debates.) Relatedly, the stakes are simply too high to wallow in vibes, memes, or an obsessive focus on within-the-margin-of-error polls. Democracy can indeed be crushed by authoritarianism. But it can also be suffocated by the sort of trivia that often dominates social media.

And, finally, the Prime Directive of 2024: Never, ever become numbed by the endless drumbeat of outrages.”

Instead of the “vibes”, what is the data indicating at this early point about the impact of Donald Trump’s felony conviction on the country’s politics and the 2024 election?

Instead of the earthquake that many members of the news media, political class, and the larger mass public who are politically engaged were hoping for, Trump’s felony conviction has not had much of an impact on the polls.

Donald Trump and President Biden remained tied or within the margin of error in polls. Trump and President Biden continue to trade leads back and forth in the key battleground states. The American people are highly polarized. Trump’s MAGA cultists and other Republican voters support him – with some polls actually showing an increase in support for Trump after his felony conviction. President Biden and the Democratic Party’s voters are, as expected, for the most part, more supportive of him following Trump’s felony conviction.

The details tell a slightly different but complementary story. Following Trump’s felony conviction, there is a not insignificant percentage of Republican voters who report that they will not vote for him in the 2024 election. Some of Nikki Haley’s voters are continuing to vote for her in an apparent act of protest against Donald Trump. But Haley, who was once a fierce critic of Trump, is now enthusiastically supporting him. Like the other Vichy Republicans, Nikki Haley is auditioning for a position as Trump’s vice president or other high-ranking member of his regime.

New York Magazine's Ed Kilgore recently highlighted polling data that shows that Trump’s “favorability” has not been hurt by his historic felony conviction:

A decent number of pollsters regularly test the “favorability” of major public figures, which is the closest we can get to a “popularity” measure. (For those currently in office, a “job approval” rating offers additional data.) In the RealClearPolitics polling averages, Trump’s favorable/unfavorable ratio on May 30 was 43 percent favorable to 54 percent unfavorable. As of June 10 it is also 43 favorable to 54 percent unfavorable. Looking at specific pollsters, Yahoo News showed Trump’s favorability actually improving between mid-May (43 favorable to 56 percent unfavorable) and early June (46 favorable to 53 percent unfavorable. Economist/YouGov showed a very slight change between late May (44 percent favorable to 55 percent unfavorable) and early June (44 percent favorable to 55 percent unfavorable); the same is true of Morning Consult’s tracking poll (44 percent favorable to 53 percent unfavorable pre-conviction; 43 percent favorable to 53 percent unfavorable post-conviction). Data for Progress does show a lower post-conviction Trump favorability ratio (43 percent favorable to 56 percent unfavorable) than in its last such poll, but it was all the way back in March (45 percent favorable to 54 percent unfavorable). All in all, it’s pretty clear Trump is as popular (and unpopular) now as he was before he became a convicted criminal.

A recent poll from Reuters/Ipsos shows that 25 percent of independents were less likely to support Trump after his felony conviction while 18 percent told pollsters they are more likely to support him. 56 percent of independents report that Trump’s felony conviction will not impact their vote.

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There are many qualifiers regarding what the polls and other data tell us (or not) about Donald Trump, who was convicted of a felony, and the 2024 election.

Public opinion polls are a snapshot in time which, by themselves, are not predictive. Public opinion polls gain power in hindsight in terms of the trends and the outcome of a given election.

Focusing on one poll in isolation, especially if it not a high quality one, is basically a fancier way of reading the “vibes” – just with math.

Despite how the mainstream news media and political class are committed to a belief in a “folk theory of democracy” and a “responsible electorate” and “normal politics”, most Americans are not politically sophisticated or ideological. They can be reasonably described as being inconsistent in their political thinking. The average American voter is also ignorant of factual matters about politics and policy. They instead rely upon intuitions and cues from elites and other opinion leaders and influentials to make their political decisions.

Even given the existential nature of the 2024 election and how Donald Trump is basically promising to end democracy, the polls and other research show that a large percentage of Americans are not paying close attention to the 2024 election – and politics more generally.

And for all of the minor shifts in public opinion that Trump’s felony conviction has apparently caused at this point in time, the role of what political scientists and other experts describe as “affective polarization” and “negative party identification” cannot be underestimated.

[In this dynamic, a person has a close emotional attachment to a party and views the opposing political party not just as possessing different views but as evil and an existential threat].

For all the discussions about how “traditional” Republicans are disgusted with Donald Trump and find his felony conviction to be disqualifying, many, if not the vast majority of them, will likely vote for him on Election Day.

The role of racism and white racial resentment also cannot be underestimated in how Trump’s felony conviction will impact (or not) the outcome of the 2024 election. Public opinion polls and other research show that a majority of Republican voters and Trump supporters believe in the white supremacist “great replacement” conspiracy theory and its lies that “white people” are being “replaced” by non-whites. Moreover, research also shows that a plurality if not majority of white Republican and Trump voters will support a dictatorship or other form of authoritarian government instead of multiracial democracy if they are not the country’s most powerful racial group. Dictator Donald Trump is a great weapon for white identity politics and white power.

Donald Trump and his propagandists are escalating their threats of violence and mayhem and promises of “retribution” and “revenge” against the Democrats and their other perceived enemies. The Republican Party is rallying even more around Donald Trump by undermining and delegitimating the rule of law by weaponizing it against President Biden, the Democratic Party, and the other “enemies” of MAGA.

Perhaps most importantly, by their very nature, truly historic and unprecedented events exist largely outside of our existing theories and understandings. We “the Americans” in the Age of Trump are in a type of undiscovered country where we are trying to grope and muddle our way through events where much of what we believe we know will turn out to not be true and our predictions of future events will be incorrect. Past experiences can be a guide through these confusing times, but they must not trap us into making poor decisions or reaching the wrong conclusions because they make us feel good or offer some other type of comfort.

David Cay Johnston, who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and long-time observer of Donald Trump, offers this counsel in an essay at DCReport about the corrupt ex-president and aspiring dictator’s felony conviction:

For now, though, the challenge is to get the truth about Trump out to enough people to motivate a majority to vote against him, especially in the states that could go either way.

By all rights, Trump should get trounced in November along with the Republicans who support his vicious anti-American plans to kill our representative democracy so he can rule as a dictator, free to murder opponents, loot the Treasury and control women.

Complacency can put Trump back in the Oval Office. Being smug and staying home out of a false belief that Trump cannot claw his way back to power now that he’s a felon on Election Day is precisely what Trump hopes.

Thwart Trump’s hopes. Do your duty. Be a citizen and save our Constitution and our freedoms.

The American people need to listen to Johnston’s warnings. Donald Trump may now be the first former president and presumed major party presidential nominee to be a convicted felon in American history. In this surreal era, Trump may actually win the election from prison. But what should be a mark of shame is instead being viewed as a badge of honor by his MAGA cultists and other followers. There are too many other Americans who also view felon Trump as a type of force to “shake up the system” and/or entertain them while he burns it all down. And there are those Americans who just don’t care anymore. Of the three groups, I am unsure which to condemn the most. Ultimately, Donald Trump and his MAGA movement and the other neofascists will have to be beaten at the ballot box and across civil society on Election Day and beyond. The courts alone will not be able to stop the Trumpocene and the forces it has empowered and unleashed.  

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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