Why Hunter Biden's guilty verdict probably won't affect the 2024 election

It's not clear that voters will fault the president for his son's wrongdoing.

June 12, 2024, 2:44 PM

The 2024 presidential campaign is starting to feel more like a season of "Law & Order." On Tuesday — not two weeks after former President Donald Trump was convicted of falsifying business records — President Joe Biden's 54-year-old son Hunter was convicted of illegally purchasing a firearm by not disclosing his drug use on a federal form. But while Trump's conviction appears to have cost him a small amount of support in early post-verdict polling, don't count on Hunter Biden's conviction to have the same effect on his father.

First of all, a lot more Americans were paying attention to Trump's trial than to Biden's. According to a YouGov/CBS News poll from June 5-7, only 24 percent of U.S. adults said they had heard or read a lot about Biden's trial, and another 38 percent said they had heard or read some about it. That's a total of 62 percent of adults, which seems like a lot … until you compare it to Trump's trial. A YouGov/CBS News poll taken at around the same point in Trump's trial (May 14-21) found that 39 percent of adults had heard or read a lot and 37 percent had heard or read some, for a total of 76 percent.

Plus, of course, there's the fact that Trump is running for president and Biden — that is, Hunter Biden — isn't. That means voters would need to take the extra step of faulting Joe Biden for his son's wrongdoing in order for it to hurt him in the polls, and it's not clear they're doing that.

True, a Marquette University Law School poll from May 6-15 found that 45 percent of likely voters thought Joe Biden did something illegal related to his son's business dealings, and an additional 25 percent thought he did something wrong but not illegal.* (So far, no evidence has come to light to support the idea that Joe Biden was involved in those dealings.)

However, this trial and conviction did not relate to Hunter Biden's much-scrutinized business dealings, but rather to his purchase of a firearm while addicted to drugs. We couldn't find any polling asking about the president's involvement in that case, but there may be a reason for that: It's more of a by-the-book crime than a political scandal, and one that even some top Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham have said didn't need to be pursued.

In fact, the tie-in to Hunter Biden's drug addiction may make the president's support of his son in this case more sympathetic. According to an Ipsos/Reuters poll from January, 54 percent of U.S. adults thought it was very or somewhat believable that Joe Biden was being a good father by supporting his son throughout his legal troubles. Though the president wasn't at the legal proceedings, first lady Jill Biden was, and the president changed his schedule to fly to Delaware and be with his son after the verdict, embracing him on the tarmac upon landing.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden hugs his son Hunter Biden upon arrival at Delaware Air National Guard Base in New Castle, Del., on June 11, 2024, as he travels to Wilmington, Del.
President Joe Biden hugs his son Hunter Biden upon arrival at Delaware Air National Guard Base in New Castle, Del., on June 11, 2024, as he travels to Wilmington, Del. A jury found Hunter Biden guilty on June 11 on federal gun charges in a historic first criminal prosecution of the child of a sitting US president.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

In its June 4-5 poll, Emerson College asked registered voters if Hunter Biden being found guilty in his Delaware trial would make them more or less likely to vote for his father. We're generally not big fans of this type of poll, as Americans are notoriously bad at accurately assessing whether news events like this will theoretically affect their votes. For example, lots of people who were never, ever going to vote Democratic might respond that Hunter Biden's conviction makes them less likely to vote for Joe Biden simply because they don't like the Biden family (and, sure, they may honestly be even less likely to vote for Biden now, but that doesn't really change the dynamics of the election).

However, the question does have some value when compared with Emerson's similarly worded question from May 21-23 about Trump's (then-hypothetical) conviction. In that survey, 53 percent of registered voters said that Trump receiving a guilty verdict would not affect their vote one way or the other. In the June poll about Hunter Biden, however, 64 percent said his trial would have no impact on their vote. In addition, only 4 percent of Joe Biden supporters and 10 percent of undecided voters said the conviction would make them less likely to vote for him. (A higher share — 14 percent — said it actually made them more likely to vote for Biden.) By contrast, in May, 10 percent of Trump supporters and 24 percent of undecided voters said Trump's conviction would make them less likely to vote for him.

So the pre-verdict data suggests that Hunter Biden's conviction will have little, if any, impact on the 2024 election. That said, stranger things have happened, so we'd still be wise to wait and see how the polls react over the next couple of weeks. And even if this trial doesn't register in the polls, Hunter Biden's other legal troubles still could — he's slated to go on trial in September for tax evasion, which Republicans seem much more interested in making political hay over. Now that we've launched our presidential forecast, you can bet your sweet bippy that we'll keep you apprised of any major shifts in the race going forward.


*By comparison, 54 percent of likely voters in the same poll thought Trump did something illegal in his hush money case, and another 25 percent thought he did something wrong but not illegal.