Trump Conviction Fallout: Will Support Waver or Rally?

In the wake of Donald Trump's conviction, a flurry of polls and opinions reveal a divided American electorate. Will this legal turmoil sway loyalists or rally undecided voters?

Published June 02, 2024 - 00:06am

8 minutes read
United States
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'It's hard to keep track, and it's overwhelming,' Register said, as his service dog, Lord Remington I, rolled around in the grassy shade nearby.

'A lot of people are focused on putting food on the table. A lot of people are focused on not getting fired from their job, or keeping their families together,' he said.

So even before the jury convicted Trump on 34 felony counts Thursday night, Register was confident: The trial's outcome alone would be unlikely on its own to change the minds of many voters in New Hampshire, where analysts generally view President Biden as somewhat favored to win, though recent polling suggests he has no more than a slight edge over Trump.

'I think the people that are going to vote for Trump are going to vote for Trump,' Register said Wednesday, after a veterans roundtable hosted by the Biden campaign. 'I think independents that are still undecided are going to stay undecided. I think the Democrats need to get out and vote.'

Register said he is among the undeclared voters who comprise a plurality of New Hampshire's electorate. And, like a majority of the state's population, he was born elsewhere. Originally from North Carolina, he moved to New Hampshire in 2021 after his military service. He said he used to vote for Republican presidential candidates, but sees Trump as a self-serving threat to American norms and the rule of law. So he's actively supporting Biden.

Register isn't alone in his assessment that Granite Staters -- who handed Trump a victory over former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley in the first-in-the-nation GOP primary in January -- have mostly made up their minds on who they prefer in the Trump-Biden showdown. And reactions to the verdict reflect that.

'If you're on Team Trump, this just hardens the resolve,' said Wayne Lesperance, a political science professor and the president of New England College. For those on Team Biden? 'It feels good: He's been held accountable.'

But there is also a middle group, Lesperance said. The group includes some Haley voters who are still wrestling with whether to throw their support behind the presumptive GOP nominee, as Haley has. While this segment may be fairly small, it could have an outsize influence in New Hampshire, he said.

'It's the only segment that has the potential to move the needle for either Trump or Biden,' he added.

J.P. Marzullo, 80, of Deering, N.H., is somewhere in that middle group. He's a former vice chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party and a former state representative. He initially supported former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's bid for presidency, then turned to Haley after Christie dropped out.

Marzullo has mixed feelings about Trump's conviction. On the one hand, he said the justice system worked and jurors did a good job. On the other, he still wants to know more details about how and why the case played out the way it did.

'Honestly, I'm still kind of sitting there, trying to figure out what I'm going to do,' he said on Friday.

Marzullo said he has lingering questions. He noted that Judge Juan Merchan made donations to Biden in 2020 ($15 to the campaign and $20 to progressive organizations, as NBC News reported). He's also mulling Fox News commentary about Merchan's alleged bias against Trump.

'It bothers me a little because I think the justice system worked,' Marzullo said, 'but people are going to question those things, and I think rightfully so.'

Marzullo said the verdict will likely split Haley voters, with some backing Trump because they think he was 'taken advantage of,' while others remain conflicted.

'I mean, to vote for a felon, for me, is going to be difficult,' he said.

Difficult, but not impossible.

Others contend the verdict will dramatically drive turnout for Trump.

'The American public is smart and they will see through this farce,' said Michael Biundo, a veteran Republican political strategist in New Hampshire who advised Trump's campaign in 2016 and advised a political action committee that supported Vivek Ramaswamy's candidacy in 2024. 'I think it solidifies his base and moves people that just think that this whole case was done for political reasons. The Democrats have overplayed their hands.'

Recent polling of likely New Hampshire voters found that 37 percent of those who identify with the Republican Party and 14 percent of those who identify as independent said a conviction in this case would make them 'much' more likely to vote for Trump, according to the University of New Hampshire Survey Center -- but it's not entirely clear how many of those respondents would cast a vote for Trump anyway. The survey found that 85 percent of likely New Hampshire voters had 'definitely decided' who they will support in November.

Bobby Yoho, a construction worker who lives in Alexandria, N.H., said while enjoying a sunny Friday afternoon with his family at the Franklin Falls Dam that Trump's conviction was 'trash.' He called it an abuse of the justice system and said Trump's other legal challenges are also part of a politically motivated witch hunt.

Yoho, a registered Republican, said he was pleased with how Trump ran the country, noting that costs went down and wages went up. He felt Trump did exactly what he said he would do, and the felony conviction won't shake his support for the former president.

'It doesn't change anything for me,' he said.

While many New Hampshire voters may be dead-set in their presidential selections at this point, Dante Scala, a UNH political science professor, said it would be worthwhile to keep an eye on two groups: progressives and independents.

There are progressives upset with Biden over his handling of Israel's war with Hamas in Gaza, and Trump's conviction might provide a basis for Democrats to reinvigorate some of that diminished support, he said. And there are casual independents who aren't particularly plugged into the political process; the phrase 'convicted felon' might make a difference for them.

Scala said it's also important to remember where the conviction landed in the 2024 political calendar.

'This isn't an October surprise. It's a May surprise,' he said. 'There's an awful long time until people actually go to vote, and there's an awful long time for this to settle in.'

Following the 'kangaroo court's' verdict, Trump's campaign donations skyrocketed, with the 2024 hopeful securing nearly $35 million within just hours. According to Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles, Trump Campaign senior advisers, 'From just minutes after the sham trial verdict was announced, our digital fundraising system was overwhelmed with support.'

Amid deepening political divides, Trump's conviction is being leveraged as both a punchline and a rallying cry, depending on which political echo chamber one inhabits. With the fight for 'persuadable' voters heating up, strategies are evolving to capture this elusive demographic.

In Washington D.C., experts acknowledge that the conviction has thrown both Trump's and Biden's campaigns into unfamiliar waters, as they scramble to sway a critical faction of voters who admit the verdict could affect their decisions.

With the political landscape as polarized as ever, Lee M. Miringoff, Director of the Marist College Institute of Public Opinion, noted, 'It's that kind of election where it's going to be fought in the margins.' The concern resonates among political scholars who view the conviction not as a definitive turning point in voter sentiment but as a variable to be calculated in a larger equation of voter behavior and swing-state unpredictability.

Pageantry and pledges aside, Trump's conviction has undeniably become part of the political storyline leading up to the elections, with perceptions ranging from a politically motivated trial to a symbol of accountability.

Trump's legal woes, juxtaposed against Biden's political challenges, present a duality evoking past presidential dramas. However, in this electoral act, the ballots of 'persuadable' voters and the mobilization efforts of both camps will ultimately determine the denouement of this political saga.

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