(WASHINGTON) — Last week’s indictment of Donald Trump, marking the first time a former president has ever faced federal charges, also created new questions about how his political future could be affected by a historic prosecution.
The 37 counts against Trump over how he allegedly handled government secrets after leaving the White House are the latest and most serious of his legal issues.
But polling, reactions from Republicans — including some of Trump’s 2024 opponents — and the aftermath of Trump’s first indictment, in New York City, show that it’s so far unclear whether the case will have lasting impact on the public.
A near equal percentage of Americans believe both that Trump should have been charged and that the charges against him were politically motivated, an ABC News/Ipsos survey last week found.
What is clear, however, is that the indictment has changed the course of the Republican primary campaign.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a 2024 candidate facing Trump, said on Fox News on Monday that she had concerns both about federal law enforcement and about Trump’s suspected behavior.
“Two things can be true at the same time. One, the DOJ and FBI have lost all credibility with the American people. … The second thing can also be true if this indictment is true, if what it says is actually the case, President Trump was incredibly reckless with our national security,” she said.
Trump is set to be arraigned on Tuesday afternoon in Florida. He has said he is innocent. He previously pleaded not guilty to the felony charges he faces in New York City related to hush money he paid to an adult film actress before the 2016 presidential election.
He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and claims he is being politically persecuted. Prosecutors have pushed back.
“This indictment was voted by a grand jury of citizens in the Southern District of Florida, and I invite everyone to read it in full to understand the scope and the gravity of the crimes charged,” special counsel Jack Smith, who is overseeing the federal case against Trump, said on Friday.
Here are key political takeaways and questions after Trump’s second indictment.
Poll shows contradictory feelings among Americans
The ABC News/Ipsos poll, conducted on Friday and Saturday among a random national sample of 910 U.S. adults, found sharp divides on the appropriateness and seriousness of the charges as well as whether Trump should now leave the race.
Forty-eight percent of Americans said Trump should have been charged with crimes, while 35% said he should not have been and 17% said they didn’t know. And 46% said Trump should suspend his bid for the White House, while 38% said he should not and 16% didn’t know.
However, 47% of respondents also said they believed the charges were politically motivated, while 37% said they weren’t and 16% weren’t sure.
Generally speaking, non-whites and those with a college education were less favorable to Trump on these questions.
About six in 10 Americans (61%) said that the charges were very or somewhat serious, while only 28% said they were not too serious or not serious at all.
In a sign of possible political danger for Trump, about 63% of independents called the charges somewhat or very serious, and 38% of Republicans said the same. Democrats, unsurprisingly, overwhelmingly thought the charges were somewhat or very serious, with 91% saying so.
Forty-five percent of independents said that Trump should have been charged versus 33% percent who said he should not have been. A large majority (86%) of Democrats said Trump should have been charged compared to only 16% of Republicans.
What’s more, 44% of independents said Trump should end his 2024 campaign, while 37% said he should not. About three-quarters (76%) of Democrats also thought Trump should suspend his campaign. However, just over two-thirds (68%) of Republicans disagreed, saying Trump should not suspend his campaign.
On the other hand, 45% of independents also said they felt the case was politically motivated, while 37% said it wasn’t. Sixteen percent of Democrats and 80% of Republicans said it was politically motivated, too.
Trump could see primary boost as other candidates split
Given what happened after his previous criminal charges, Trump could see another increase in his fundraising and in support from Republican voters after his second indictment — at least in the primary.
An ABC News poll conducted after Trump’s first indictment in New York showed that he gained some ground in the primary over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, his nearest competitor, compared to DeSantis’ previous polling average as compiled by FiveThirtyEight.
“There’s nothing in polling right now that suggests that Donald Trump is being hurt by federal indictments, by any indictments. The case of New York from a couple of months ago, it may have actually helped his standing,” ABC News Political Director Rick Klein said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
“It may be that this case is more serious, it may be that his rivals are making the case and they can sort of get in there a little bit and change these dynamics,” Klein said, “but for those who are saying that Donald Trump is done politically as a result of facing criminal charges, there’s just no evidence of that yet.”
Some of Trump’s challengers have rallied to his defense, like Vivek Ramaswamy. Others, like DeSantis, have criticized federal authorities for, in their words, unfairly targeting Trump.
But some Republican candidates have tried to prosecute the case that he is unfit, based on his alleged conduct.
“My point is that this is bad for our country, bad for the presidency, and it is a legitimate campaign issue. We do not need to have our commander in chief of this country not protecting our nation’s secrets,” former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said on CNN. “If these allegations and probable cause have been found against any military person, any public servant that wasn’t named Donald Trump, they would have been indicted a long time ago.”
Independents could offer Democrats an opening
Independents were a key voting bloc supporting Democrats in the 2020 election, according to exit polls. Self-identified independents voted Democrat by a 54-41 margin in 2020, according to the exit polling.
The latest ABC News/Ipsos survey on Trump’s indictment shows they aren’t embracing him, while Democratic and Republican voters have largely broken along partisan lines on the issue.
Among independents, 45% said Trump should have been charged, a third said he should not have been and 22% said they didn’t know. Overall, 57% of independents in this poll had an unfavorable view of Trump and, again, a majority of independents were also more likely to count the charges as serious.
The numbers seem to bode well for a Democratic Party that has been chosen by a majority of independents in past cycles.
Low favorability for both parties’ front-runners
Both Trump and Biden suffer from identically dismal favorability ratings in the new ABC News/Ipsos poll. Both stand at 31% although Trump’s is up from 25% in the days after his first indictment while Biden’s has remained about the same.
Those numbers are sparking both handwringing from some Democrats and barbs from Trump’s critics that he is blocking more electable Republicans from making gains in the primary.
“I don’t think Trump can win a general election, but that is a nice way for him to diss people like Tim Scott, who is a pretty formidable candidate,” Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said on CNN last month, referencing South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, another GOP primary candidate.
Meanwhile, on Sunday on “This Week,” Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, a close ally of the White House, acknowledged polling showing Biden trailing or tied with Trump.
“I think we should be worried given [Trump’s] conduct and given his record,” he said.
Coons later told anchor George Stephanopoulos, “I think the best thing for Joe Biden to do in this campaign is to keep showing that he is an effective and capable president by continuing to solve big problems” — all “despite the distractions of former President Trump’s rising legal problems.”
Trump indictment forces his rivals to talk about him
News of the federal charges on Thursday night immediately shook the primary, taking candidates off their regularly scheduled programming and dividing the GOP field, with some of Trump’s critics in the race taking the chance to highlight his legal peril — despite Republican voters saying in polls that they reject the indictment.
“The fact is that these facts are devastating,” former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another primary candidate, said on Sunday.
“The bigger issue for our country is, is this the type of conduct that we want from someone who wants to be president of the United States?” Christie said.
Others, however, sided with the former president, with entrepreneur Ramaswamy vowing to pardon Trump if he’s elected president — an offer that Hutchinson labeled “offensive” — and others emphasizing what they view as a politicized justice system.
“What we see today across this administration of President Joe Biden is a double standard,” Scott said Monday. “That double standard is both un-American and unacceptable. You can’t protect Democrats while targeting and hunting Republicans.”
“This case is a serious case …. But in America, you’re still innocent until proven guilty,” he said.
DeSantis, who has been slamming Trump more directly on the trail, made more indirect references to the former president’s case. He decried what he called government “weaponization” and pointed to Hillary Clinton, who was investigated but ultimately not charged after prosecutors found “a lack of intent,” authorities have said.
“I remember, you know, Hillary [Clinton] had emails with the classified, and my view was, gee, as a naval officer, if I would have taken classified from my department, I would have been court marshaled in a New York minute, and yet they seem to not care about that,” DeSantis said on Sunday.
Unlike Ramaswamy, DeSantis has not promised a pardon to Trump if elected. GOP candidate and former Vice President Mike Pence was asked about it but avoided weighing in last week, saying, “I’m not going to speak to hypotheticals.”
Indictment fuels divides over law enforcement
Beyond the campaign trail, the indictment appears to be exacerbating partisan divides over law enforcement.
Democrats for years have been mired in an intraparty debate over changes to policing, which Republicans have taken advantage of to hit the party as, they claim, soft on crime.
But now, conservatives are accusing federal law enforcement of bias and even mulling efforts to defund part or all of the FBI.
While the timeline for Trump’s federal case remains unclear — and with his trial in the New York case slated for March 2024 — it’s all but certain that the charges against him will shadow the Republican primary race for months to come.
METHODOLOGY – This ABC News/Ipsos poll was conducted using Ipsos Public Affairs‘ KnowledgePanel® June 9-10, 2023, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 910 U.S. adults with an oversample of Republican respondents weighted to their correct proportion in the general population. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.7 points, including the design effect. Partisan divisions are 26-25-41 percent, Democrats-Republicans-independents. See the poll’s topline results and details on the methodology here. (NOTE: LINK the word “here” to the Topline document. )
ABC News’ Gabriella Abdul-Hakim, Libby Cathey, Abby Cruz and Dan Merkle contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.