A plurality of Americans and independents think Donald Trump should have been charged with a crime in each of his four indictments, according to ABC News/Ipsos polling. A majority of Americans said in a new AP-NORC survey that they definitely won’t vote for the former president in the 2024 general election.
Yet, Trump continues to hold a mammoth lead for the Republican presidential nomination and is polling within the margin of error of President Joe Biden in a hypothetical general election matchup.
While paragraphs one and two seem contradictory, they’re really not. Americans don’t like Trump, but Republicans do. And general elections aren’t referendums on one candidate but a choice between two or more – and Americans, as a whole, dislike both Trump and Biden.
If anything, Trump’s position within his party has become stronger since the beginning of the year. A majority (54%) of Republicans have a strongly favorable opinion of him in Fox News polling released this week, which is up 11 points from the end of last year. No other Republican candidate for president reaches even half of Trump’s current percentage.
How Republicans see the indictments
If you’re going to win a primary over Trump – who is expected to skip next week’s first GOP presidential debate in Milwaukee – there needs to be some outside force that makes Republicans deviate from the candidate they love.
You could make the argument that four indictments just might do that.
The problem is Republican voters have been consistent in what they think about the different Trump indictments. Despite the charges against the former president, ranging from his efforts to overturn the 2020 election to allegations that he mishandled classified documents, Republicans see them all the same way. Between 14% and 16% of Republicans believe Trump should have been charged, according to recent ABC News/Ipsos surveys. The vast majority don’t.
Republicans justify their stance by saying that the charges are politically motivated. Over 80% of Republicans agree in the new polling from ABC News/Ipsos and the AP that both the Fulton County district attorney in Georgia and the Department of Justice are playing partisan politics.
This has caused Republicans to not only stick to Trump but also double down on him. His primary polling advantage has swelled from the single digits at its lowest point to nearly 40 points today over his nearest competitor, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
How Republicans see the general election
You might also expect Republicans to abandon Trump if they think he can’t beat Biden in a general election – even if they like the former president and believe he is getting a raw deal. After all, he has been indicted four times, and a majority of Americans say they definitely won’t vote for him in November 2024.
That reasoning hasn’t worked, either. Republicans by and large still say Trump is more electable than DeSantis.
Indeed, I’m not sure they’re wrong. Trump is running neck and neck with Biden in general election surveys. Fox News and Quinnipiac University have the matchup within the margin of error nationally, and Trump has been ahead of Biden in more polls this year than during the entirety of the 2020 campaign.
If we see Trump overperform in the swing states relative to his performance nationally this cycle – like he did in 2016 and 2020 – you could make the argument that he should be favored over Biden if the election were held today.
Moreover, Trump is polling no worse against Biden nationally than his Republican rivals. If anything, he’s been doing slightly better, on average, this summer.
The reason is simple: Biden’s polling is awful for an incumbent. He has one of the highest disapproval ratings on record for an incumbent at this point in his presidency: in the mid-50s, on average. Biden’s favorable rating generally runs a point or two better than Trump’s, though that isn’t saying much with the former president’s favorable rating in the high 30s, on average.
After all, the AP-NORC poll found that a majority of Americans probably or definitely would not vote for Biden in 2024 – just as was true for Trump in the same survey.
A case of déjà vu
A situation in which a lot of voters don’t like either major-party nominee is one all too familiar to political analysts.
Just seven years ago, both Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton had unfavorable ratings north of 50%. It wasn’t the same majorities that disliked both candidates. Most voters liked at least one of them.
But a sizable bloc of the electorate (18%) disliked both candidates, according to the 2016 exit polls. Today, a slightly higher percentage of the electorate, on average, likes neither Biden nor Trump.
You might think the edge for 2024 should go to the man who has a slightly higher average favorable rating (Biden). But that math didn’t work in 2016. More voters who disliked both Trump and Clinton went with Trump, and it won him the election.
A lot of Republicans may be betting on that math again, and who is to say they’re incorrect? After all, history and the current polling tells us not to dismiss Trump’s chances.