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Will Trump’s Legal Woes Define the 2024 US Election?

Thought Leadership // 03/05/2024
~2 min read
BY Charles Roth
Ian Hutchinson U8wfirpsq7y Unsplash

Donald Trump currently faces four criminal cases that some speculate will lead to a conviction, potentially preventing the presumptive Republican nominee from becoming president once again. Legal manoeuvrings from all those involved have been intense and numerous, as much is on the line. US news channels and pundits could have you believe these trials will play a decisive role in November’s election, but simply put, Trump’s legal maelstrom is not what will decide who is president.

The former president could be barred from running for office ever again, have his assets seized, and even receive a prison sentence upwards of 20 years if convicted of even a few of the 91 criminal federal and state indictments. However, these are issues for after the 5th of November, election day. Regardless of the judicial outcome of either the state or federal proceedings, they will not conclude in time for a conviction, disqualification, or prison time. Furthermore, US voters are prioritising other issues in their decision process.

Only one case has a realistic possibility of producing a verdict by election day; New York state’s indictment. However, this case is also the least legally convincing, and US voters agree. Polling data shows that only 35% of US adults believe that Trump committed an illegal action in the New York case and only 31% believe that Trump is being fairly treated by prosecutors in New York.

The electorally influential bloc of independent voters (those not identifying as Democrat or Republican) have even less confidence in the treatment of Trump as well as if he committed criminal offences. So, in the unlikely event that the New York case concludes in a guilty verdict and all appeals are dealt with, the electoral implications would be marginal. Polling also shows that nationally, US adults view the other cases as more legitimate, and almost half would change their vote regarding the outcome. That’s not a realistic possibility, simply due to the much longer duration of these court procedures.

Source: AP-NORC Poll April 4-8

A deeper investigation into the electorate’s views of the cases demonstrates their lacklustre impact come November. Respondents who do think Trump committed serious acts are much more likely to be Democrats, or in other words, people who were not going to vote for him anyway. Additionally, 45% of respondents nationally stated that they were following some or much of the New York trial, meaning a majority of US voters have not.

Within battleground states, the former figure is lower, with 40% of total respondents saying they have heard or read a lot about the trial. In arguably the most important swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, registered voters are more likely to say the charges are politically motivated than believe Trump committed a crime. What voters believe nationally is not as relevant, since it will be battleground states that decide the election, not partisan strongholds like California or Mississippi. With such a slim likelihood of decisions, and voters in battleground states not particularly paying attention, the trials of Trump will have little to no impact come November.

There is no denying that the ramifications of Trump’s cases, regardless of the verdict, are important. However, for those interested in forecasting the result of November, there are more significant metrics. For example, issues such as immigration and abortion, have become rallying cries for political mobilisation and could affect voter turnout. More registered voters surveyed have paid attention to abortion law changes, 60%, than to Trump’s trials.

When examining the battleground states and even the specific counties that will decide the election, respondents claim that inflation and the cost of living are their most important issues, not Trump’s legal woes. Those who wish to better hedge their interests come the November election should look towards other more reliable forecasting tools, not legal decisions that will not arrive in time.

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