Once more, with feeling: It has been a couple of weeks since former President Donald Trump’s latest indictment (this time in Georgia, in connection with his efforts to overturn the 2020 election there). Do the charges appear to have affected his chances of returning to the White House?
After each of Trump’s three prior indictments, his polling numbers changed in small, inconsistent ways — if they changed at all. The fourth indictment followed this non-pattern pattern: Some evidence suggests that he’s gained ground in the Republican primary, other evidence suggests that he’s lost it, and what little general-election data we have suggests nothing has shifted significantly. And, adding to the frustration of political junkies everywhere, it’s very difficult to figure out how much the fourth indictment affected Trump’s standing in the race given how close it occurred to two other major events on the campaign trail: the third indictment and the GOP presidential debate.
Let’s take a deeper look at national polls of the Republican primary. There have been 29 of these conducted completely after news of the fourth indictment broke late at night on Aug. 14, and Trump has fallen from 53 percent in our polling average to 50 percent since then.* But the Georgia indictment came on the heels of another big set of charges: On Aug. 1, Trump was indicted by a federal grand jury, also for allegedly interfering with the 2020 election. And only five combinations of pollsters and sponsors conducted polls both in the period between the two indictments (Aug. 1 and Aug. 14) and after the Georgia one (since Aug. 14).** That’s important because, while we can theoretically compare, say, Emerson College’s Aug. 16-17 survey to its June 19-20 survey, it would be impossible to say that Trump’s 3-percentage-point decline is due to the Georgia indictment. It could have been due to the third indictment, or any other combination of events that occurred over those two months.***
Then, to make matters even more complicated, only two of those pollsters wrapped their post-indictment poll before the Aug. 23 Republican presidential debate, which also could have shifted views of Trump. And those two disagree about how much the race shifted after the indictment. According to Morning Consult, Trump’s national support among potential primary voters barely budged, from 57 percent to 58 percent. But according to Premise, Trump actually boosted his numbers among Republican registered voters over this period, from 54 percent to 60 percent.
That’s not what we see when we look at Trump’s average support, which has decreased — but that may be linked to the debate, which Trump declined to attend. According to three pairs of polls**** whose first half was fielded after the indictment but before the debate and whose second half was fielded after the debate, Trump’s national support dropped by an average of 4 points. In addition, a FiveThirtyEight/Washington Post/Ipsos poll conducted using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel found that 5 percent of Republican likely voters who watched the debate were considering voting for Trump before it but not after it, making him the only candidate to lose a significant amount of potential support.
It doesn’t look like the fourth indictment changed many minds among the general electorate either. Morning Consult and Premise were again the only two pollsters to ask about a hypothetical general-election matchup between Trump and President Biden during our windows of interest (Aug. 1-14 for the before poll, Aug. 15-23 for the after poll). According to Premise, registered voters preferred Trump to Biden by 4 points before the indictment and by 5 points after it — not a statistically significant shift. And according to Morning Consult, the results were the same (Biden 43 percent, Trump 41 percent) before and after the Georgia indictment.
One more pollster/sponsor pairing — Ipsos/ABC News — asked about Trump’s overall favorable and unfavorable ratings both before and after the indictment. In their Aug. 2-3 poll, 30 percent of American adults viewed him favorably, and 59 percent viewed him unfavorably. And in their Aug. 15-16 poll, 31 percent viewed him favorably and 55 percent viewed him unfavorably. That seems like an improvement, but it was within the poll’s margin of error, so it could just be noise.
To be sure, a measly three polls conducted 15 months before the election are not the final word on Trump’s fate in the court of public opinion. The case against Trump in Georgia (really, all of his indictments) could hurt or help him more as time drags on, particularly if he is convicted or acquitted before the election. It’s also possible that this entire exercise is flawed, given that the “before” polls in this analysis all came within two weeks of Trump’s third indictment; perhaps Trump’s polling numbers in this period were already depressed because of those (similar) allegations.
But looking at the big picture — including FiveThirtyEight’s averages of the national Republican primary and Trump’s overall favorable and unfavorable ratings — it’s clear that public opinion about Trump has not changed in a major way in several months, even after he was indicted on nearly 100 criminal charges in four different jurisdictions. After what is expected to be his final indictment, he remains the strong favorite in the GOP primary and a competitive candidate in the general election.
*As of Aug. 30 at 5 p.m. Eastern.
**A sixth, YouGov/The Economist, conducted its before poll Aug. 12-15, which is no good for our purposes because it was in the field when the indictment was handed down.
***Of course, because correlation isn’t causation, it would be impossible to say for sure that the decline was due to the indictment regardless. But at least when a pollster polls immediately before and immediately after a major event, you can have a reasonable suspicion that the event caused any shifts that occurred between the two polls.
CORRECTION (Aug. 31, 2023, 8:37 a.m.): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that former President Donald Trump's support in our national Republican primary polling average was 50 percent when news of his indictment in Georgia broke on Aug. 14. In fact, it was 53 percent.