Americans divided on Trump facing prison in hush money case AP-NORC poll reveals

Americans divided on Trump facing prison in hush money case AP-NORC poll reveals

Americans are nearly evenly divided on whether former President Donald Trump should face prison time following his recent felony conviction on hush money charges, according to a new poll from the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The poll reveals that 48% of U.S. adults believe Trump should serve time behind bars, while 50% think he should not. This split highlights the deep partisan divide in opinions about the case.

Among Democrats, about 8 in 10 think Trump should face prison time. Independents are more divided, with 49% saying he should be imprisoned and 46% saying he should not. Most Republicans, on the other hand, believe Trump was mistreated by the legal system and argue that he should not face jail time. Democrats generally have confidence that the prosecutors, judge, and jury treated Trump fairly.

The results of the poll underscore the partisan divide in opinions about the case, which is the first brought against a current or former U.S. president. Both Trump and Democratic President Joe Biden have made the trial central to their campaigns. Biden frequently points out that Trump is the first former president to be convicted of a felony, while Trump argues that Democrats orchestrated the case against him for political purposes.

Trump’s sentencing has been delayed from Thursday, three days before the Republican National Convention opens, to September at the earliest, when early voting in multiple states will already be underway. Dolores Mejia, a 74-year-old Republican from Peoria, Arizona, who has been closely following the trial, said, “I thought it was all a sham to begin with. I wasn’t surprised he got convicted because the court was in New York, a very blue state. … It seemed like it was thoroughly stacked against him.”

A small but notable slice of Republicans have a different view from the rest of their party. The poll found that 14% of Republicans approve of Trump’s conviction, while 12% believe he should spend time behind bars. Leigh Gerstenberger, a Pennsylvania Republican, said, “I knew he had a big ego and questionable values when I voted for him the first time in 2016, but I thought the mantle of the presidency would be a humbling experience for him, and I was wrong.” Gerstenberger believes Trump should spend at least some time behind bars, adding, “There are plenty of Americans who have spent time behind bars for lesser offenses. President Trump should not be treated any differently.”

About 4 in 10 U.S. adults are extremely or very confident that Trump has been treated fairly by either the jurors, the judge, or the prosecutors. Slightly less than half, 46%, approve of the conviction in the case, in line with an AP-NORC poll conducted in June. About 3 in 10 disapprove, and one-quarter are neutral. Some Americans do not believe Trump should be imprisoned but reject his arguments that he’s been treated unfairly by the justice system. Christopher Smith, a 43-year-old independent in Tennessee, said, “I don’t think the particular crime deserves time. I see what he did, lying on business records because of an affair, as more of a moral crime.”

The poll found that Americans are less divided about another recent high-profile case. Last month, Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, was convicted of three felonies in federal court for lying about drug use when purchasing a gun. Six in 10 U.S. adults approve of Hunter Biden’s conviction, with much smaller political differences: About 6 in 10 Democrats approve, as do around 7 in 10 Republicans. About 6 in 10 U.S. adults believe Hunter Biden should be sentenced to serve time in prison because of his conviction in this case, with Republicans slightly more likely than Democrats to agree that prison time is warranted.

The poll of 1,088 adults was conducted June 20-24, 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 4.0 percentage points.

Trump’s legal troubles are not limited to the hush money case. A county grand jury in Atlanta indicted Trump and 18 associates on August 14, 2023, on a collective 41 felony counts, including racketeering and forgery. The charges are linked to Trump’s alleged criminal conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election results. These state charges come on top of other mounting legal troubles Trump is facing at both state and federal levels.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg first charged Trump in April 2023 with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. In June 2023, the Justice Department indicted Trump on multiple criminal charges related to withholding classified government documents. One month later, the Justice Department indicted Trump again on unrelated felony charges regarding his alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.

Trump’s first trial, related to the New York business documents case, is scheduled to begin in March 2024. His federal classified documents trial is slated for May 2024. Trial dates for his other two cases have not yet been determined.

In Trump’s case, all of his federal charges are likely to carry longer potential sentences than the state offenses. However, any actual sentence would likely be much shorter than the potential maximum penalty, as per federal sentencing guidelines for any defendant with no previous criminal record. The felonies he is facing in New York are white-collar crimes and may not result in any prison time, according to legal experts.

The Georgia prosecution alleges much more serious charges. If Trump were convicted of most or all of them, avoiding a prison sentence would be an unprecedented development. Much about Trump’s case is unique, as never has a former president faced federal or state prosecution. This fact alone probably makes priority for the federal prosecution more likely.

An active presidential candidate has faced criminal charges in the past. Socialist Party nominee Eugene Debs was prosecuted and convicted under the Espionage Act for his opposition to World War I in 1918. He campaigned from prison for the 1920 election, before losing to Republican Warren G. Harding.

Federal authorities could assert priority over state officials by taking custody of the defendant. However, this has not yet happened, as judges determined Trump was not a flight risk following his brief arraignments at Washington, D.C., courthouses in June and July. States cannot arrest suspects who are outside the state’s borders, but federal law enforcement officers can arrest suspects anywhere in the country.

Source: AP, NORC, The Conversation

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