New evidence that criminal conviction won’t tank Trump’s candidacy

What’s going to happen, see, is that people who support Donald Trump will learn about what he said or did and walk away from him. They’re going to hear about what he said about immigrants coming across the border and … well, okay, not that. But they will hear what he said about John McCain and … okay. Well, maybe once they hear his comments about George W. Bush? Or Muslim immigrants. Or, well … something? Probably something.

As the meme puts it: Ah! Well. Nevertheless,

The “something” that has been powering the dreams of Trump opponents for the past year or two is that Trump’s indictment on criminal charges would spark, if not an exodus, at least some apathy among his supporters. After the indictments arrived — and boosted Trump in the Republican primaries — attention turned to conviction instead. Surely if the former president is convicted on criminal charges, his support would erode. Right?

Enter CNN’s new poll, conducted by SSRS.

Respondents were asked if they preferred Trump or President Biden in this November’s election and, if they supported Trump, whether they might bail on him if he is convicted of a crime. A quarter of Trump supporters said they might — about 12 percent of all respondents.

There you go! There’s the something! you might be thinking, and I appreciate that. But consider how those views differ by age and party. Older Trump supporters and Republicans are less likely to say that they might — might! — reconsider supporting him.

In her overview of the poll, CNN’s Jennifer Agiesta notes that the “might bail” constituency has a number of characteristics that overlap with “not core Trump supporters” anyway. They are more likely to be under the age of 50 (most are, compared to a bit over a third of those who will stick with Trump regardless). They are less likely to be White. And they are more likely to have voted for Joe Biden in 2020!

Not many of them did, but those aren’t hardcore Trump people.

There are a lot of layers of maybe here. Maybe Trump gets convicted. If he does, maybe up to a quarter of current Trump supporters — many of whom appear to have been peeled away from constituencies that normally vote Democratic — will reconsider voting for him. But, CNN’s poll determined, very few of them would then vote for Biden.

The math of winning elections is not complicated; your candidate needs one more vote than the other candidate. One level deeper, it gets more interesting. If a voter flips from your opponent to you, that’s a net gain of two votes: you plus-one and them minus-one. If a voter gives up on your opponent and stays home, that’s a net gain of one vote: One of your voters’ votes isn’t canceled out by that voter. Good, but half as good as a flip.

According to CNN’s poll, 4 out of 5 of those who might bail on Trump if he is convicted say they would never vote for Biden. So that’s a net gain of one vote for most of those voters, rather than two. About 2 percent of respondents say they support Trump now, might bail if he gets convicted and then might vote for Biden. Maybe enough to swing a state — if all of those “mights” hold.

What Agiesta points out, though, is that a lot of them were probably only loosely attached to Trump in the first place. Some may be people who have been loyal to Trump for eight years and finally have reached the point where they can no longer be. Many obviously aren’t but are, instead, Biden skeptics who are helping Trump do better in the polls now than he was at this point in 2020.

Among those loyalists, the old calculus comes into play. In the abstract, they might bail on Trump. (Among those who won’t, presumably? The fifth of Trump supporters who already think he committed a serious crime.) But once he loops the conviction into his narrative about oppression and bias and lawfare and so on? Ah, well. Nevertheless.

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