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Two Indictments Later, Trump Is Still the Republican Front-runner

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Getty Images

It would be natural to assume that Donald Trump being arraigned on a second and by most accounts more serious set of felony criminal charges would throw his campaign off balance. A look at the polls makes it clear that so far no such thing is happening; Trump remains the favorite in the Republican primaries, and he’s still basically tied with Joe Biden in general-election polling. That’s true despite not only his legal problems but the emergence of a huge field of rivals, one of whom, Ron DeSantis, is spending a vast amount of money in the early caucus and primary states.

There are now five public polls available of the national GOP contest with samples taken partially or entirely after the news broke on June 8 of Trump’s second indictment. In one (Reuters-Ipsos), Trump’s support was down by six points from a pre-indictment poll. Two polls showed Trump had made substantial (Economist-YouGov) or modest (CBS-YouGov) gains since each pollster’s previous survey. In yet another (Quinnipiac), Trump and DeSantis, his closest rival, were pretty much doing the same as they were a month ago. In the RealClearPolitics polling averages, both Trump and DeSantis have dropped two points since June 8. Trump’s lead is holding steady at 30 points, down a bit from its peak of 36.9 percent on May 19 but well above the 15-to-18-point lead he held the first three months of this year.

One theory holds that while the GOP base’s confidence in Trump seems unshakable at the moment, fears about the impact of his legal issues and extremist language on swing voters will soon lead to doubts about his electability. Maybe, but it hasn’t happened yet. The post-indictment Economist-YouGov survey directly asks Republicans about the electability of various candidates. Seventy-one percent of respondents believed that either Trump or DeSantis would “probably win against Joe Biden.” You could mark that up to general GOP optimism, but other candidates (notably Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, and Chris Christie) are underwater in the ratio of Republicans who think they would win rather than lose against Biden.

General-election polling also shows little or no evidence of Trump losing ground after his second indictment. The two post-indictment polls matching Trump against Biden show no significant movement. Quinnipiac has consistently given Biden a small lead by two-to-four points; in the latest survey (like the one in March), Biden is up by four points. Similarly, Economist-YouGov has been showing a very close general-election race all year; the latest survey (like the one in early May) shows the two candidates tied. In the more reliable RCP polling averages, Trump currently leads Biden by two points and DeSantis leads the president by 1.2 percent. It’s worth remembering that the Electoral College has really benefited Trump in the past. In 2020, Biden won the popular vote by 4.5 percent and came within 44,000 votes of losing anyway. So a tie probably won’t be good enough.

All this could change, of course. Nate Cohn sees a subtle shift in attitude against Trump in conservative-media coverage and among elite GOP opinion leaders that could eventually have an effect. And there will be plenty of debates and on-the-ground campaigning, and perhaps additional Trump indictments, before primary voters start heading to the polls in January. But right now Trump remains a strong front-runner for his party’s presidential nomination, and one could argue that he’s a slight favorite to avenge the 2020 defeat he does not admit. He may be laboring in the shadow of the prison guard tower, but that could actually be helping him with Republican voters without unduly affecting a deeply polarized general electorate.

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Two Indictments Later, Trump Is Still the GOP Front-runner