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Only 1 in 3 US adults think Trump acted illegally in New York hush money case, AP-NORC poll shows

WASHINGTON (AP) — The first criminal trial facing former President Donald Trump is also the one in which Americans are least convinced he committed a crime, a new AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll finds.

Only about one-third of U.S. adults say Trump did something illegal in the hush money case for which jury selection began Monday, while close to half think he did something illegal in the other three criminal cases pending against him. And they’re fairly skeptical that Trump is getting a fair shake from the prosecutors in the case — or that the judge and jurors can be impartial in cases involving him.

Still, half of Americans would consider Trump unfit to serve as president if he is convicted of falsifying business documents to cover up hush money payments to a woman who said he had an affair with her.

While a New York jury will decide whether to convict Trump of felony charges, public opinion of the trial proceedings could hurt him politically. The poll suggests a conviction could hurt Trump’s campaign. Trump enters a rematch with President Joe Biden as the first presumptive nominee of a major party — and the first former president — to be under indictment. A verdict is expected in roughly six weeks, well before the Republican National Convention where he will accept the GOP nomination.

Trump has made the prosecutions against him a centerpiece of his campaign and argued without evidence that Biden engineered the cases. That argument helped him consolidate GOP support during the Republican primary, but a conviction might influence how many Americans — including independent voters and people long skeptical of Trump — perceive his candidacy.

“Any conviction should disqualify him,” said Callum Schlumpf, a 31-year-old engineering student and political independent from Clifton, Texas. “It sets a bad example to the rest of the world. I think it misrepresents us, as a country, as to what we believe is important and virtuous.”

Yet, a cloud of doubt hangs over all the proceedings. Only about 3 in 10 Americans feel that any of the prosecutors who have brought charges against Trump are treating the former president fairly. And only about 2 in 10 Americans are extremely or very confident that the judges and jurors in the cases against him can be fair and impartial.

“It’s very obvious political persecution,” said Christopher Ruff, a 46-year-old political independent and museum curator from Sanford, North Carolina. “I’m no fan of Trump in any way, shape or form. Didn’t vote for him, never will. But it’s obviously all political.”

Consistent with AP-NORC polls conducted over the past year, the new poll found that about half of Americans say Trump did something illegal regarding the classified documents found at his Florida home, and a similar share think he did something illegal regarding his alleged attempt to interfere in Georgia’s vote count in the 2020 presidential election. The poll also found that nearly half of Americans believe he did something illegal related to his effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Prosecutors in New York will argue that Trump falsified his company’s internal records to hide the true nature of a payment to his former lawyer, Michael Cohen. Cohen alleges he was directed by Trump to pay adult film actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 one month before the 2016 election to silence her claims about an extramarital affair with Trump.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to the 34-count indictment and denied any affair with Daniels.

The poll found that 35% of Americans say Trump has done something illegal with regard to the hush money allegations. Slightly fewer, about 3 in 10, think he did something unethical without breaking the law. Fourteen percent think he did nothing wrong at all. Those numbers haven’t shifted meaningfully in the year since he was first charged in the case.

Republicans are much less likely than Democrats and independents to say Trump committed a crime in the hush money case.

“He’s done nothing wrong,” said Louie Tsonos, a 43-year-old sales representative and Republican from Carleton, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. “Because Trump has a lot of money and fame, they want to destroy his reputation. Or at least they are trying to.”

Fewer than one in 10 Republicans say Trump did something illegal in the case, while 4 in 10 Republicans think he did something unethical but did not break the law. About 3 in 10 Republicans, like Tsonos, say he did nothing wrong.

By contrast, about 6 in 10 Democrats and roughly 3 in 10 independents believe he did something illegal.

Monica Brown, a Democrat from Knoxville, Tennessee, thinks Trump did something unethical, though not illegal, in the New York criminal case under way. But a conviction would ruin his credibility to serve as president, she said.

“I don’t believe any president – whether it’s Donald Trump or anyone else – should have a criminal conviction on his record,” said Brown, a 60-year-old veterinary technician and social worker. “Even if it’s related to something like hush money, what respect are they going to get from anyone? Citizens of the country or world leaders, they aren’t going to respect you.”

Nearly 6 in 10 Republicans say they would consider Trump fit to be president even if he were to be convicted of falsifying business documents in the hush money case. About 8 in 10 Democrats say Trump would not be fit to serve in the event of a conviction. About half of independents think he would be unfit to serve, with 22% saying he would be fit and 30% saying they didn’t know enough to say.

“I don’t think any of that stuff has any relevance to his ability to lead this country,” said Jennifer Solich, a Republican from York, Pennsylvania, and retired nuclear engineer who believes Trump would be fit to serve if convicted in the New York case. “There may be some unethical aspects to it. I just think it’s more trivial than what we’re facing as a nation.”

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Beaumont reported from Des Moines, Iowa.

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The poll of 1,204 adults was conducted April 4-8, 2024, using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

Thomas Beaumont And Amelia Thomson-deveaux, The Associated Press


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