New poll shows why Trump's support is likely to hold despite sexual abuse verdict
Before Tuesday’s verdict, just 6% of 2020 Trump voters said they believed E. Jean Carroll’s testimony was true.
Former President Donald Trump has famously joked that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and he “wouldn't lose any voters.”
But what if the courts affirmed that Trump sexually assaulted somebody in a Fifth Avenue department store?
That’s the big question this week after a Manhattan jury found Trump liable Tuesday for sexually abusing the writer E. Jean Carroll inside a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room nearly 30 years ago. Just as they’ve done each time Trump has breached presidential norms — from the "Access Hollywood" tape to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol — pundits and political observers are now asking if the Carroll verdict will shake the former president’s support.
Two key numbers from a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll suggest that yet again, the answer will be no.
The survey of 1,584 U.S. adults was conducted from May 5 to 8 — right as the trial was wrapping up but just before a verdict was reached. As such, it doesn’t reflect the public’s response to the news that Trump is now the first president in U.S. history who has been ordered by a court to pay $5 million in damages for sexual abuse and defamation.
Nor does it prove — in a deeply polarized country where tiny margins in a few key states have decided the last two elections — that swing voters won’t consider the verdict when casting their ballots next November.
But the poll did ask several questions that reveal how Trump’s own supporters have been reacting to Carroll’s accusations.
One of the most telling was this: If the jury determines that Donald Trump raped E. Jean Carroll, do you think he should be allowed to serve as president again in the future?
In response, a full 61% of Americans (and 63% of registered voters) said no. Just 20% of Americans (and 24% of voters) said yes.
These numbers represent a significant break with past Yahoo News/YouGov surveys, which have consistently found that only half of Americans have been willing to say Trump should not be allowed to serve again in light of his efforts to subvert the 2020 election (49%, February 23-37) or if he is convicted of a crime related to the alleged hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels (50%, April 14-17).
The implication is that Americans consider rape more disqualifying than paying off a porn star or conspiring to reverse a lost election — or at least that more of them are reluctant to tell a pollster otherwise, for understandable reasons.
But even here, 2020 Trump voters are the exception. In fact, a plurality of them said yes, Trump should still be allowed to serve as president if the jury determines he raped Carroll (42%). Only 37% said he should not be allowed to serve in that instance.
Given that — and given that the jury ultimately decided that Carroll did not prove her allegation of rape but rather the lesser offense of “sexual abuse” — it is hard to imagine many 2020 Trump voters deciding that Tuesday’s verdict disqualifies their candidate.
A second question further cements this hypothesis: In addition to the rape case, Trump was recently indicted for paying hush money to a porn star. Several other criminal investigations — into Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election and his refusal to return highly classified documents — are ongoing. Do these cases make you feel any differently about Donald Trump or is your opinion of him the same as it’s always been?
Respondents were given four options: 1) Feel more negatively about Trump, 2) Feel more positively about Trump, 3) Same opinion as always or 4) Not sure.
Overall, 33% of Americans said they feel more negatively about Trump given all the recent cases and investigations; 14% said they feel more positively about him; and 44% said they feel the same as ever.
If that third of the country that now feels more negatively about Trump were to include lots of his potential 2024 voters, then perhaps this week’s additional sexual abuse and defamation verdict would dent his electoral support.
But it doesn’t. Among the 33% who feel more negatively, only 12% identify as Republicans. Only 11% report voting for Trump in 2020. And only 2% are Republicans who say they currently support Trump for the GOP nomination — a subgroup that amounts to less than 1% of all U.S. adults.
In other words, almost none of the Americans who already feel more negatively about Trump because of his legal troubles were likely to vote for him in the Republican primary anyway.
As for the 2024 general election, Trump (43%) and President Biden (45%) are currently locked in a statistical tie among registered voters, according to the poll. Before Tuesday’s verdict, just 6% of 2020 Trump voters said they believed Carroll’s testimony was true. The chances that a significant number of them will change their minds now are slim.
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,584 U.S. adults interviewed online from May 5 to 8, 2023. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (32% Democratic, 27% Republican). Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.7%.