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2024 wild card: Could Trump criminal trial verdict rock White House race?

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With closing arguments in former President Trump’s criminal trial scheduled for early in the week ahead, a pending verdict in the historic case could have serious consequences in the 2024 election between the former president and President Biden.

Trump holds the slight edge right now both in national polling and in public opinion surveys in most of the crucial battleground states that will likely decide their election rematch.

However, Trump could potentially be convicted on some or all of the nearly three-dozen state felony charges he faces in his trial in New York City, which is the first in the nation’s history for a former or current president.

Veteran Democratic pollster Chris Anderson told Fox News that he did not think ‘a guilty verdict would fundamentally change the landscape of the race.’ Longtime Republican pollster Neil Newhouse went even further, arguing that a Trump conviction ‘is unlikely to make any difference.’

Both pointed to the fact that ‘attitudes are so set in concrete’ regarding both the Republican former president and his Democratic successor in the White House.

Trump is charged with falsifying business records in relation to payments during the 2016 election that he made to Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about his alleged affair with the adult film actress. Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, $130,000 in return for her silence about allegations of an affair with Trump in 2006.

Both Cohen and Daniels testified for the prosecution and were grilled by Trump’s attorneys during cross-examination in a case that has grabbed tons of attention on the cable news networks, online and on social media.

The former president has repeatedly denied falsifying business records as well as the alleged sexual encounter with Daniels, and he has repeatedly claimed, without providing evidence, that the case is a ‘SHAM TRIAL instigated and prosecuted directly from the inner halls of the White House and DOJ.’

Trump has also been fined a couple of times, and threatened with jail, by the judge in the case for violating a gag order aimed at protecting witnesses and jurors from the former president’s verbal attacks.

According to a Fox News national poll conducted earlier this month, nearly half of registered voters questioned said Trump had done something illegal when it comes to violations of campaign finance laws, with another quarter saying he had done something unethical. 

Only 27% said the former president had done nothing seriously wrong. However, that number jumped to 54% among Trump supporters.

That same survey indicated that voters were roughly divided on whether Trump’s legal treatment was fair (51%) or unfair (47%). There was an expected extremely wide partisan divide, with nine out of 10 Democrats saying the former president’s treatment was fair and 85% of Republicans disagreeing.

Would a Trump guilty verdict dramatically alter the current state of play in the presidential showdown?

A handful of recent national polls suggest the answer is not really.

Among them, 62% of registered voters questioned in a Quinnipiac University survey said a guilty verdict would make no difference to their vote for president. Fifteen percent said it would make them more likely to cast a ballot for Trump, and 21% said it would make them less likely to vote for the former president.

Additionally, eight out of 10 Trump supporters surveyed in an ABC News/Ipsos national poll said they would still back the presumptive GOP presidential nominee if he was found guilty in court. Sixteen percent said they would reconsider their support, and 4% said they would no longer back Trump.

Anderson, a member of the Fox News Election Decision Team and the Democratic partner on the Fox News Poll, compared a potential guilty verdict to the infamous video that briefly damaged Trump’s chances of winning the 2016 presidential election. 

‘We might see an ‘Access Hollywood’ type slump in Trump’s poll numbers, where some of his less devoted supporters sour on him temporarily, but then by November it will seem forgivable,’ Anderson said. ‘ So I don’t think a guilty verdict would fundamentally change the landscape of the race, but it will certainly be a new contour that could be meaningful in a close race.’

Newhouse, who served as a pollster on four Republican presidential campaigns and is a co-founder of the political survey and polling firm Public Opinion Strategies, highlighted that ‘attitudes are so set in concrete regarding both President Biden and former President Trump that a guilty verdict in the hush money is unlikely to make any difference at all on the presidential ballot.’ 

‘Those who back Trump believe this is nothing more than a political witch hunt, while those who oppose him came to a guilty verdict before the trial ever began,’ he emphasized.

However, Anderson spotlighted that the history-making trial would have an impact.

‘Regardless of the verdict, this trial clearly isn’t what Trump wants to be dealing with right now and has not helped him,’ Anderson said. ‘What might help him is a not guilty verdict that will allow him to claim vindication. But even then, it’s a real stretch to imagine it becomes a net positive for him.’

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