Polls Say Trump Is Just as Popular Post-Conviction

Same old Teflon Don.
Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Getty Images

Most of the scrutiny of the public-opinion reaction to Donald Trump’s criminal conviction has focused on two optics: What do voters say and think when asked about it (either before or after the jury’s guilty verdict was announced)? And how does it affect his standing against Joe Biden in general-election polls?

These two angles on public opinion are valuable but hardly dispositive. Public understanding of the highly technical charges against Trump and their relevance to his fitness for the presidency is understandably limited. And at any given moment a thousand influences are affecting the Trump-Biden race. So it’s worth taking a separate look at the metric that you’d expect to most directly be affected by a criminal conviction: Trump’s own popularity.

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.

You could also take a look at Biden’s favorability numbers to understand why this is a close presidential contest with Trump slightly ahead. Biden’s favorable/unfavorable ratio in the RCP polling averages is 41 percent favorable to 55 percent unfavorable. Reflecting the fact that Uncle Joe is more popular as a public figure than as a president, his favorability rating is regularly a bit higher than his job-approval rating (currently at 39.8 percent at RCP and 37.6 percent at FiveThirtyEight).

It’s entirely possible that it will take a while for Trump’s conviction to sink in, and the Biden campaign will work hard to make sure not a single voter is unaware of it by November. But the more it’s Democrats alone who are talking about it, the more Republicans will believe (without actual evidence) Trump’s spin that the state trial in Manhattan was somehow engineered by the Biden administration. A fresh CBS poll shows an incredible 80 percent of Republicans already buying that conspiracy theory. While in a contest as close as this one almost any factor could contribute to a W or L for either candidate, it’s increasingly apparent that Trump’s criminal conviction is likely to matter only on the margins, if at all.

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