For the second time in less than three months, former President Donald Trump has been indicted. This time, it’s a federal probe in connection with his handling of classified documents. (His first indictment was by the Manhattan district attorney’s office on 34 counts of falsifying business records with the goal of disrupting the 2016 election.) Trump is scheduled to appear in federal district court in Miami on Tuesday. Sources have told ABC News that Trump will face at least seven charges, including corruptly concealing a document or record and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
The legal threat of more criminal charges is obvious — but will they hurt Trump’s chances of winning back the presidency in 2024? The public’s reaction to Trump’s first indictment can give us a clue. First of all, this second indictment is unlikely to significantly dent his popularity among Republicans. After all, Trump’s standing in the GOP primary has only gotten stronger since the New York state indictment came down. On the day before that indictment, Trump led Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis by 19 percentage points in FiveThirtyEight’s national polling average of the primary. Since then, though, his lead has steadily increased — all the way to 33 points on Friday.
(It’s worth noting that some of that may also be due to negative news stories for DeSantis. But according to Civiqs’s tracking polling of how many Republicans view Trump favorably, he had virtually the same favorable and unfavorable ratings on Thursday — 77 percent to 12 percent — as he did right before the New York indictment.)
Trump’s bigger problem is probably with the general electorate. We’ve previously found that scandal-plagued incumbents in general elections between 1998 and 20161 performed an average of 9 points worse than they’d otherwise be expected to. Of course, voters are more dug into their partisan camps today than they were in the early 2000s, and Trump was already facing plenty of scandals when he won the presidency in 2016. But a May poll from WPA Intelligence found that an indictment in the classified-documents probe would shave a few points off Trump’s margin in a hypothetical general election against President Biden. WPA Intelligence’s initial query found Biden leading Trump nationally 47 percent to 40 percent. But when asked to suppose that Trump was indicted for mishandling classified documents, allegedly refusing to turn them over and misleading investigators as to their location, respondents said they would support Biden 50 percent to 39 percent.
That said, Trump’s first indictment didn’t seem to permanently damage him politically among the general electorate either. After the New York indictment, the share of Americans with a favorable opinion of him fell from 41 percent on March 29 to 37 percent on April 7, according to FiveThirtyEight’s average. But the share with an unfavorable opinion of him was relatively stable, increasing from 53 percent to 55 percent. And by April 19, both numbers were back to their pre-indictment levels. In other words, it appears that some Trump supporters withheld their support for him for a couple weeks after the indictment, but they didn’t necessarily turn against him either, and they quickly returned to the fold. (This could also have been a product of differential nonresponse, the phenomenon where people aren’t as excited about answering polls when things aren’t going well for their preferred party or politician.) This continued a long-standing trend of public opinion on Trump being extremely stable. And there’s also the possibility that the charges won’t be taken as seriously by some voters because they’re being pursued by lawyers within Biden’s administration, a fact that conservative media is already going out of its way to note.
But polling suggests that the charges in this case could be viewed as more serious than those brought in New York, which relate to a hush-money payment that happened almost seven years ago. According to a late May poll from YouGov/Yahoo News, Americans said 52 percent to 32 percent that falsifying business records to conceal hush-money payments to a porn star was a serious crime. But they said 63 percent to 20 percent that taking highly classified documents from the White House and obstructing efforts to retrieve them was. That poll question didn’t mention Trump specifically, but a different YouGov poll, conducted for The Economist in early June, found that Americans believed 49 percent to 35 percent that Trump should face criminal charges for his handling of classified documents.
And of course, even if the indictment doesn’t hurt Trump politically, that doesn’t mean that an eventual conviction wouldn’t. The YouGov/Yahoo News poll also found that 62 percent of Americans said Trump should not be allowed to serve as president again if he is convicted of a serious crime. That’s the same poll in which 63 percent said taking classified documents was a serious crime. So Trump is not out of the woods; in fact, the biggest test may still be ahead of him.