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How Trump's trial is (not) changing the polls

Plus, the latest polling on campus protests and marijuana legalization.

May 2, 2024, 2:43 PM

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our occasional polling column.

Trump's trial isn't changing minds yet

We're now in the second week of testimony in the trial of former President Donald Trump, in which he's accused of paying hush money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. That means the trial has now theoretically had enough time to affect how Americans view the presumptive Republican nominee. However, many aren't paying close attention, and their opinions on him haven't really changed.

The vast majority of adults (87 percent) said they had heard either a lot or a little about the trial now unfolding in Manhattan, according to a YouGov/The Economist poll conducted April 28-30. But a majority (55 percent) of respondents to a Marist/NPR/PBS NewsHour poll from April 22-25 said they were not watching it closely or at all. An earlier SSRS/CNN poll from April 18-23 found the same thing — 51 percent said they were not following the trial closely, while 49 percent said they were.

That doesn't mean Americans haven't formed ideas about whether Trump did something legally, morally or ethically wrong — but it does seem that those opinions formed before the trial even started. In the CNN poll, a third of respondents thought Trump had done something illegal, another third thought he'd done something unethical but not illegal, 12 percent thought he'd done nothing wrong at all, and the rest were unsure. Those numbers were little changed from CNN's poll from around the same time in 2023, just after Trump was indicted in this case.

Similarly, in the YouGov poll, 53 percent of adults thought the case against Trump was very or somewhat serious, while 33 percent thought it was not very serious or not serious at all. And a plurality, 44 percent, thought Trump should be convicted in the case, while 38 percent thought he should not be (the rest were unsure). When YouGov/The Economist asked the same questions April 14-16, before testimony began, those numbers were virtually identical.

That said, in the most recent YouGov poll, just a little more than a quarter of adults thought Trump would be convicted. According to the SSRS/CNN poll, 56 percent were not confident the jury would be able to reach a fair verdict in the hush money trial, and only 13 percent thought he was being treated about the same as most other criminal defendants.

Of course, Trump is facing charges in three other cases as well, and they may pose greater dangers to him politically. In the CNN poll, only 28 percent of Americans thought the hush money case should disqualify Trump for the presidency, but they took the other cases more seriously. Thirty-eight percent thought the charges in the classified documents case should disqualify Trump, 43 percent thought the charges related to attempts to overturn the 2020 election should and 47 percent thought the charges related to Jan. 6 should.

Unsurprisingly, there are wide partisan splits on all these questions, and polls continue to show that Republicans' support for Trump has remained unshaken by all of these charges. For voters who plan on voting for Trump in November, 76 percent told CNN that they would support Trump regardless of whether he is convicted of a crime.

—Monica Potts

What Americans think about the campus protests

If you've been following the news lately, there's a good chance you've heard about protests on college campuses related to the war in Gaza. Across the country — most notably at Columbia University in New York City — young people have been protesting President Joe Biden's handling of the war and their university's involvement or investment in companies connected to Israel. And according to a YouGov/The Economist survey published this week, 75 percent of Americans reported having heard at least a little about arrests at the protests, and 33 percent said they had heard a lot.

Since the early days of the war, younger Americans have been more sympathetic to the Palestinians than older Americans have. For example, in an October survey from Quinnipiac University, just 32 percent of registered voters aged 18-34 said that they approved of Israel's response to the Oct. 7 attacks, compared with 50 percent of voters overall. And just 29 percent of young voters supported sending more military aid to Israel, compared with 51 percent of all voters and over 60 percent of voters aged 50 and older. In addition, in a Pew Research survey conducted in February, 33 percent of Americans aged 18-29 said that their sympathies lay more with the Palestinian people, while 14 percent said their sympathies lay more with the Israeli people (the rest said they sympathized equally with both or were not sure). That made young Americans the only age cohort to register stronger sympathy with Palestinians than Israelis.

However, young Americans' distaste for the war itself and the actions of the Israeli government hadn't bled over to the Biden administration — until recently. In weekly YouGov/The Economist surveys conducted since Oct. 7, respondents have regularly been asked, "Do you approve or disapprove of the way Joe Biden is handling the Israel-Hamas war?" Younger voters typically had a more positive view of Biden's handling of the war than Americans as a whole — but that changed abruptly in March, possibly as a result of increased military activity in Rafah that began in February.

In response to the protests, many college campuses have called in police, and polls indicate this may be met with wide public support. According to a survey conducted early this week by RMG Research, 31 percent of registered voters approved of the protests, while 50 percent disapproved. The RMG Research survey also found that 71 percent of voters favored arresting protestors who occupy buildings or block others from using areas of campus, and according to Morning Consult, 76 percent supported colleges asking the police to protect campuses from violence. And in the YouGov/The Economist survey from earlier this week, only 30 percent of respondents said all or most pro-Palestinian campus protesters were peaceful, compared with 42 percent who said that half or less were peaceful.

Americans also don't seem to have a clear sense of whether it's more important for colleges to protect free speech or prevent hate speech: In the YouGov/The Economist survey, 15 percent said stopping hate speech was more important, while 23 percent said protecting free speech was more important; 50 percent said both were equally important. However, Morning Consult found that pluralities of voters support banning pro-Palestinian protests (47 percent) and pro-Israeli protests (41 percent), so free speech may not be top of voters' minds when thinking about the recent wave of protests.

—Mary Radcliffe

Americans are chill with rescheduling marijuana

On Tuesday, the Biden administration announced its intent to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III drug, which would vastly increase access to the substance for research and medicinal purposes. While 24 states have already fully legalized recreational marijuana use (and many more have legalized it just for medicinal use), large majorities of Americans are in favor of legalizing the drug nationwide.

In an April Data for Progress poll, 59 percent of likely voters agreed that marijuana should be classified as a Schedule III drug, and two thirds supported legalizing it entirely for all adults over the age of 21. And in a YouGov poll from last month, a similar 62 percent of Americans agreed that marijuana use should be made legal in the U.S. When asked in that same poll if they had ever tried marijuana, 56 percent said they had, although only 24 percent admitted to using it within the past year.

—Cooper Burton

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