As Trial Begins, Was Trump Benefiting From Being Out of the News?

As Trial Begins, Was Trump Benefiting From Being Out of the News?

Donald J. Trump appears, according to polls, to be a stronger candidate than he was four years ago, and not just because a significant number of voters look back on his presidency as a time of relative peace and prosperity.

That’s also because his political commitments, such as his penchant for insults and his legal troubles, no longer dominate the news as they once did.

In the latest New York Times/Siena College poll, just 38 percent of voters said they had been insulted by Mr. Trump “recently,” although more than 70 percent said they had been insulted by him at some point.

We (unfortunately) didn’t ask such a question in 2016 and 2020 for comparison, but my subjective thumb in the wind tells me that if we had, more voters would have said yes to the “recently offended.” Ask. Mr. Trump’s most outrageous comments simply no longer dominate the news cycle the way they did four to eight years ago.

Likewise, many voters appear to be ignoring his myriad legal challenges. A majority of voters said they believed he had committed federal crimes, but only 27 percent of registered voters said in the latest Times/Siena poll that they were paying “very close attention” to news of the trials against him. That’s much lower than the 39 percent in October 2019 who said they were paying close attention to the Trump-Ukraine controversy (the “perfect” phone call).

It seems plausible that the lack of attention paid to Mr. Trump contributed to his early strength in the polls. Voters still generally don’t like him – in fact, his popularity rating is unchanged compared to our 2020 poll. But his liabilities simply aren’t at the forefront of people’s minds, making it easier for the “double haters” — those who tell pollsters they don’t like both candidates — to support him over President Biden.

The Times/Siena poll provides some evidence to support this idea. Mr. Biden has a 95-3 lead among Biden 2020 voters who say they have been insulted by Mr. Trump recently, while Mr. Trump wins 19 percent of voters who say they have been insulted by him before are, but not recently.

Likewise, Mr. Biden leads 93 to 5 among Biden 20 voters who are paying attention to Mr. Trump’s legal troubles, while he gets 78 percent among those who are not very attentive or less attentive.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Mr. Biden would win back his former supporters if Mr. Trump said something sufficiently offensive or if they paid more attention to his legal battles.

Perhaps those who haven’t been offended by Mr. Trump lately have actually read his comments comparing his political opponents to “vermin” or heard him say that undocumented immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country” – but they just didn’t feel repulsed by them.

Still, it remains plausible to believe that Mr. Biden’s reputation could improve if the news constantly read “Trump, Trump, Trump.” And against this background, the trial of Mr. Trump in Manhattan is all the more interesting.

In some ways, the allegations against him are old news. You wouldn’t expect them to change many votes or change other people’s opinions of him. But it’s the kind of story that would have dominated the news when Mr. Trump was president and hasn’t quite taken hold in the last six months or so. A trial could be exactly the kind of media spectacle that manages to put the spotlight on Mr. Trump, not Mr. Biden.

Maybe it’s the kind of event that makes these double-haters remember why they liked Mr. Trump more than Mr. Biden four years ago.

It’s difficult to navigate the early polls on the Trump trial, which began this week.

For example, our Times/Siena poll found that most voters thought the allegations that he falsified business records related to hush-money payments were “serious” and that he should be found “guilty” in the case.

On the other hand, according to AP/NORC, only one in three Americans said Mr. Trump did something illegal in the case.

These two results seem quite contradictory. This type of division is likely due primarily to the wording of the question, not the underlying survey sample.

Consider the two questions, with the AP question first:

  • When it comes to the following points: Do you believe that Donald Trump did something illegal, or that he did something unethical but not illegal, or do you believe that he did nothing wrong? If you don’t know enough to say it, you can say that too. […] Allegations that he covered up hush money payments to a woman who claimed he had an affair with her.

  • Regardless of whether you believe Donald Trump did this, do you think the allegations that he falsified business records related to hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels are very serious, somewhat serious, not too serious, or not serious at all?

The AP question does not specify the nature of the potentially unlawful conduct (falsifying business records) and does not imply that he has already been accused of a crime. In the case of the Times/Siena poll, these mentions could subtly mislead voters into thinking this is a serious matter. The AP question also offers a middle ground option that the allegations are unethical but not illegal.

That’s a lot to sort out, so here’s a rule of thumb: When I see question wording having a very large impact, I usually take that as a sign that voters just don’t have particularly strong feelings about the issue.

After all, according to the Times/Siena poll, most voters have generally paid no attention to Mr. Trump’s legal troubles, and this is arguably the least-noticed case of all.

Echelon Insights asked voters an…unusual…series of questions about whether Mr. Biden or Mr. Trump would perform better at a variety of tasks, from building Ikea furniture to eating a hot dog.

Mr. Trump prevailed in almost every task, but Mr. Biden actually led the poll in the presidential race, 49 percent to 46 percent.

It turns out that the ability to “fight a medium-sized dog” isn’t necessarily the quality voters are looking for in their president.

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2024-04-19 09:05:27