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What Polls Can and Can’t Tell You
People don’t have nuanced views on the Trump indictment. They just don’t like him.
Former Congressman (and former Republican) Joe Walsh scoffed at a recent poll showing broad approval of Trump’s indictment.
“So 60% of Americans approve of Trump’s indictment. This is such a stupid poll. Why? Because 100% of Americans haven’t yet seen the charges. 100% of Americans don’t know what Trump has been indicted for.”
That sounds like a reasonable point. Shouldn’t pollsters wait till the American public is fully informed before asking poll questions?
The answer is, “not really.” Mainly because if pollsters waited until the American public was fully informed before asking poll questions, they would never ask a poll question. The American public is rarely fully informed. Pollsters could wait until after the indictment is released; they could wait until two weeks after the indictment is released; they could wait till the sun dies and the earth is a blackened shell. Most people polled still won’t have a fully informed, intimate, expert knowledge of the charges against Trump.
So, if you’re always asking people to weigh in on topics they know little about, why bother?
Polls can’t tell you people’s nuanced, deep thoughts on Trump’s indictment because people don’t have nuanced, deep thoughts on Trump’s indictment, for the most part. But a poll can tell you, in general, whether people approve of Trump, and whether that approval is strongly influenced one way or the other by his indictment.
With that as the metric, this CNN poll is pretty helpful. It shows that Democrats overwhelmingly hate Trump, 94% to 6%. No surprise there. It shows that Republicans are on Trump’s side…though less overwhelmingly than you might think (21% against, 79% for.) And it shows you that independents are for the indictment 62% to 38%.
Overall around 60% of American approve of the indictment—which is in line with Trump’s current 538 approval/disapproval, at 38.6%/57.9%. 538 also shows Trump’s approval taking a serious hit in the last couple days, suggesting that the indictment is doing more harm than good.
It makes sense that a news cycle highlighting Trump’s criminality and infidelity wouldn’t be great for him. But some right wing commenters like Erick Erickson insisted, counterintuitively, that the indictment was a big boost to Trump’s campaign for the 2024 nomination and eventually the presidency.
At least initially, given the polls we have, that doesn’t seem to be true. Trump’s overall approval took a hit, and his numbers are even worse when pollsters focused specifically on the indictment. Endless news cycles about Trump’s trial between now and 2024 will not make him a more popular presidential candidate—at least based on the information we have now.
One thing polls have told us repeatedly, that commenters seem to have trouble processing, is that Trump is really not popular. He lost the popular vote in two elections, and his polling was consistently terrible; Joe Biden isn’t very popular either, but his numbers have consistently been better than Trump’s. Trump has been able to stay relevant thanks to an impassioned base distributed to maximize electoral college returns. But a solid majority of people just don’t like him. Even if they aren’t clear what he’s being accused of, they think that he’s a crook who should be held accountable for his crimes. Which, honestly, seems like a reasonable takeaway.
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