(WASHINGTON) — Donald Trump, a twice-impeached former president facing multiple criminal investigations and charges in one — as he denies wrongdoing and says he is being politically persecuted — has solidified a very early lead in the 2024 Republican primary polls.
The support for his comeback bid appears to be driven, in part, by voters who say they would cast a ballot for him even if he faces additional criminal charges.
In an ABC News/Washington Post poll released over the weekend, 51% of the 1,006 adults surveyed listed Trump as their preferred 2024 Republican nominee, compared with 25% for his nearest opponent, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. And, when incorporating which way undecided adults would lean, 49% said they would back Trump in a general election against President Joe Biden, with 42% of respondents supporting Biden.
Trump’s backers include those who think he broke the law, with 18% of respondents who said Trump should face criminal charges in investigations of his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results also saying they would be inclined to vote for him.
To be sure, polls in recent cycles have been wrong, including in the 2022 midterms, when surveys predicted a red wave fueled by economic anxiety only for Democrats to have a strong cycle, holding the Senate and narrowing losses in the House. And Democrats insist that Biden remains in a strong position with so much time before the 2024 race, pointing both to last year’s results and a string of legislative accomplishments passed with little margin for error in his first two years in office.
Still, national surveys like the most recent one conducted by ABC News do capture attitudes among voters, even when they seem contradictory. The survey was taken before a jury found Trump liable in a case brought by E. Jean Carroll alleging that he raped her and later defamed her by denying he assaulted her.
Follow up interviews with several of the poll respondents indicated there remains seemingly inexorable support from Trump from a slice of the GOP, despite his scandals and defeats. And even among those not wed to the idea of supporting Trump in a primary, they said their financial worries are encouraging them to overlook his legal peril and support him in a hypothetical rematch against Biden.
Rebecca, a 19-year-old college student who declined to give her last name, told ABC News that she had worries over “everything about [Trump] getting rid of certain files, and then the allegations of him and women,” referencing Trump’s possession of classified documents after leaving office and accusations of sexual misconduct, which he denies.
Still, Rebecca would vote for Trump even if charged, she said, “because he might be a bad person, but he is a good president.”
When pressed on if she had any concerns about having a criminal as commander-in-chief, if Trump were to be convicted, Rebecca said she would consider who was running against him. Yet when asked who could run against him who would make her reconsider her vote, she answered, “To be honest, I’m not quite sure.”
That sentiment played out in seven conversations with people who responded to the ABC News/Washington Post poll who said criminal charges wouldn’t in themselves be deal-breakers in deciding who to vote for next year.
Sherry, a 56-year-old who said she is living on disability assistance, accused Trump of trying to “bribe the officials when they was trying to change over the election process.” Still, she said other politicians are also “crooks and criminals” and that she could not bring herself to vote for Biden in a 2024 general election.
“There’s nobody left. At least he had the jobs and everything going, you just had to weed out a lot of his comments and stuff,” she said of Trump.
“Since Biden’s been in office, I’ve been struggling bad. I’ve had to have help from my little brother, my kids, and I don’t like that,” Sherry said. “I didn’t have to have all that help when Trump was in office. Since Biden’s been in office, every month it’s like, am I going to make it? If my house wasn’t paid for, I wouldn’t make it.”
Those comments reflect the larger results from the poll, in which American adults said by a 54-36% margin that Trump did a better job handling the economy when he was president than Biden has done in his term so far — even as Biden and his defenders are quick to point to the country’s rebound from the onset of COVID-19, including low unemployment, despite persistently high inflation.
Other respondents had related gripes with Biden’s foreign policy, such as the use of international aide, while praising Trump’s rhetoric on limiting entanglements abroad.
Alice Castaneda, a 58-year-old living in Texas, said in the initial poll that she identifies as very liberal — and hadn’t voted for a Republican before Trump — but “always wanted Trump” and suggested “[Biden’s] doing more for other countries. And for us, we’re poor here in Texas.”
Conversations with the respondents suggested such economic worries also helped Trump gin up support among groups where Republicans typically get swamped.
Twenty-seven percent of Black respondents in the ABC News poll said they would vote for Trump, which would mark a jump from the 12% support he won in 2020. And 43% of Hispanic people say they’d definitely or probably support Trump or lean that way, which would be a rise from the 32% support he won three years ago.
Black and Hispanic respondents who later spoke to ABC News said it would be hard for Trump to relate to voters of color but rebuked the idea from Trump’s critics that his past comments on immigrants and lawmakers of color were racist.
“What he says about some being criminals and x, y and z, it sounds a little harsh. And me, coming from a Hispanic background, I find it harsh,” said 32-year-old Philadelphia resident Kayla Gonzalez. “But I find that he’s doing the correct thing. I think they should try to come here legally.”
“The man’s been a millionaire all his life, he’s used to a certain standard. So, it’s kind of hard to understand what a person that’s on the bottom is going through when you’re always on the top,” added Tommy Miller, a Black truck driver from Georgia who lamented the past rise in gas prices. “I like the man … because he did a lot of good things.”
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