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Analysis-After Trump’s conviction, the jury is still out on political damage By Reuters


By James Oliphant, Helen Coster, Tim Reid and Gram Slattery

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Donald Trump made history on Thursday as the first former U.S. president convicted of a crime. But his ultimate judgment won’t come until November when he faces America’s voters, who have decidedly mixed feelings about voting for a felon.

Prior to the trial, surveys conducted by Reuters/Ipsos and other outlets showed that some Republican and independent voters would consider refusing to vote for Trump, a Republican, if he were convicted of a felony.

Strategists from both major parties, voter interviews and the Trump campaign have cast doubt on just how much a conviction could cost him at the polls.

But in an election that could be razor-thin and decided by voters in a handful of states, minimal damage could do Trump in.

“Even if it’s just 1% in swing areas, that’s not nothing,” said Lindsay (NYSE:) Chervinsky, a presidential historian at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

A New York jury found Trump guilty of a scheme to cover up a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels to aid his political ambitions. While some Republicans told Reuters they were standing by Trump after they had considered abandoning him, others said the verdict was a final breaking point.

“You can’t get away with everything and do everything you please,” said Randy Drais, a 71-year-old retired government worker in York, Pennsylvania, who voted for Trump in the 2016 and 2020 elections.

Trump and his supporters immediately sought to use the guilty verdict as rocket fuel to fire up his voter base and donors and to paint him as a victim of political persecution.

“The real verdict is going to be Nov. 5 by the people,” Trump said as he emerged from court. “I am a very innocent man.”

Democratic President Joe Biden’s campaign concurred that, with the trial over and Trump free to resume campaigning, the most important decision will come on Nov. 5.

“(T)oday’s verdict does not change the fact that the American people face a simple reality. There is still only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: at the ballot box,” Biden’s campaign spokesperson Michael Tyler said.

Even so, Tyler couldn’t resist labeling Trump a “convicted felon.”

‘POLITICAL PRISONER’

Trump’s campaign website was already raising money off the verdict on Thursday night and labeling Trump, who is not incarcerated, as “a political prisoner.” Major donors rallied around him, pledging millions.

Trump will face sentencing in the case on July 11, just before his party’s nominating convention.

Prison time is considered unlikely, and he is expected to quickly appeal the jury’s verdict, which could stay the proceedings against him.

Sprung now from the Manhattan courtroom where he has spent the last six weeks, Trump can focus on shoring up his support and ensuring potential stray voters stay in the fold.

Those voters include Mary Ing, 68, of Sun City, Arizona, who voted for Trump in 2020 and had told Reuters/Ipsos pollsters several months ago she would not vote for Trump if he was convicted of a crime.

After his guilty verdict on Thursday, she said she has changed her mind and will back him in November, although reluctantly.

“I would still rather vote for Trump than Biden,” she said, blaming Biden for high prices and saying she believes Trump will be better for the economy.

Kim DiPiazza, 55, a retired hospice worker in New Eagle, Pennsylvania, was another voter who had pledged to desert Trump if he were convicted. She flipped before the trial was even over.

“My choices suck this year,” she said. “But I am going to have to vote for the Republican candidate, whoever it is. I’m not voting for Joe Biden.”

According to Reuters/Ipsos polls earlier this year, just over half of the people who had said they would vote for Trump said they would still do so if he were convicted by a jury of a felony. Some 13% said they would not vote for him in that case and 29% said they weren’t sure.

Republican pollster Bill McInturff was among those unconvinced by such numbers. In his surveys, he told Reuters, those who said they would consider voting against Trump are primarily core Republican votes who hold strongly negative views toward Biden.

“By November, I believe almost all of these voters would be back in the Trump column,” McInturff said.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll said that Trump is at the greatest risk of losing college-educated women, a longtime vulnerability.

Only 50% of women Trump supporters said they would vote for him if convicted, compared to 62% of men. Women were more likely than men to say they were unsure if they would still vote for Trump if he were convicted, and similar shares said they wouldn’t support him.

But in a memo released this week by Trump’s campaign, his pollsters argued that neither a conviction nor an acquittal would make much difference in the seven battleground states that could decide the election.

Undecided voters, they said, “are largely unconcerned and their votes aren’t going to hinge on this trial.”

Chervinsky, the presidential historian, said those findings didn’t surprise her.

“The sleaziness around Trump is sort of baked in,” she said.

BACK TO BUSINESS

When Trump was first hit with a salvo of charges including allegations of election interference, mishandling classified documents and the Daniels cover-up, the expectation was he would spend much of 2024 in courtrooms and perhaps face a conviction for attempting to undermine U.S. democracy itself.

But with the New York trial over and none of the other cases likely to go to trial before November, the election could revert to somewhat normal rhythms and be determined by traditional issues such as the economy, abortion rights, border security and foreign policy.

Biden’s approval rating matched his all-time low last week, according to Reuters/Ipsos. Voters remain frustrated over cost-of-living issues and that has hurt his chances.

Rodell Mollineau, a longtime Democratic operative on Capitol Hill, said Biden should tread carefully in talking about Trump’s conviction in order to win over voters who may be reluctant to leave Trump.

“You don’t want to antagonize the voters you are courting by being too sanctimonious,” Mollineau said.

But Ben Tulchin, the pollster for Democrat Bernie Sanders’ two presidential campaigns, disagreed, saying Biden needs to do something to shake up the race.

“I would think the Biden campaign would want to constantly remind voters that Trump is a convicted felon and was found guilty by a jury of breaking the law,” Tulchin said. “The goal would be to make it a character attack on Trump, drive up his negatives, and raise doubts about Trump to move voters off of him and to Biden.”



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