CNN Poll: GOP voters’ broad support for Trump holds, with less than half seriously worried criminal charges will harm his 2024 chances


Former President Donald Trump continues to hold what has proven to be an unshakeable position atop the Republican field of candidates vying to take on President Joe Biden next year, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS.

Trump is the top choice for his party’s nomination at the traditional Labor Day start to a more engaged campaign season, ahead of his nearest rival by more than 30 percentage points (52% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independent voters support him, compared with 18% behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis). And Trump is broadly seen as best able to handle a wide range of issues.

More than 4 in 10 in the potential GOP primary electorate say they have definitely decided to support him for the nomination (43% are definite Trump backers, 20% are firmly behind another candidate, and 37% have no first choice or say they could change their minds). Nearly two-thirds consider him one of their top two choices, and 61% say they think he is extremely or very likely to become the party’s nominee, up from 52% at the start of the summer. Most feel the criminal charges Trump faces are not relevant to his ability to serve as president, and a majority of GOP-aligned voters are not seriously concerned about the impact the charges could have on Trump’s electability.

Despite these dominant numbers, the poll does suggest his appeal has waned for at least some segment of the party. Around 1 in 5 Republican-aligned voters say they would not support Trump in the primary under any circumstances and 16% say the charges he faces related to his role in the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol are disqualifying if true – but that segment remains a minority and has not consolidated around any single Trump rival.

The poll — conducted entirely after the first GOP debate in August, which Trump did not attend – finds DeSantis the only other contender to reach double-digits, although his backing has dipped 8 points since June. Behind him, former Vice President Mike Pence and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley hold 7% support each, with businessman Vivek Ramaswamy at 6%. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott has 3% support, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has 2%, and the rest of the tested field stands at 1% or less.

Trump’s standing in first-choice preferences has rebounded since CNN’s June poll, though the share calling him one of their top two choices or rating him favorably both remain lower than this spring. He’s up 5 points overall as voters’ first choice, including apparent upticks among White college-educated voters (up 6 points since June), and self-identified Republicans (up 10 points). But the 63% of all GOP-aligned voters placing him in their top two remains about where it was in June (61%), a step lower than in May (68%), as does his overall favorability rating with that group (69% now, 77% in May). In the new poll, a 94% majority of Trump’s supporters view him favorably, but that falls to just 42% among those not currently supporting him in the primary.

Trump’s criminal charges

A minority, 44%, of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say they are seriously concerned that the criminal charges Trump faces will negatively affect his ability to win the 2024 election if he becomes the Republican nominee, while 56% are not seriously concerned about that. A third of those who back Trump have those concerns (34%), rising to 54% among Republicans supporting another candidate.

Republican-aligned adults are less concerned, though, that Trump’s legal fights will negatively affect his ability to serve another full term as president if reelected (32% are seriously concerned about that) or to be an effective president if elected while facing criminal charges (35%).

Broadly speaking, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say that, if true, the charges Trump faces across four criminal cases are not relevant to his fitness for the presidency (70% say so regarding the charges related to hush money payments to an adult film actress, and 64% each say the same about charges related to classified documents, efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and related to his role in January 6.)

And most, 61%, say that Trump faces so many criminal charges largely because of political abuse of the justice system (14% feel his situation is largely due to his own actions, while 25% say it’s hard to tell before trials are held).

Among the public more broadly, however, about half say that the January 6-related charges (51%) and the charges related to efforts to overturn the 2020 election (48%) should disqualify Trump from the presidency if true. A similar 47% feel that Trump faces so many charges largely as a result of his own actions, while just 31% see the number of charges as due primarily to political abuse of the justice system.

When asked to name their biggest concern about Trump as a candidate, Republican-aligned voters largely do not cite his legal woes. Just 6% name the indictments he’s facing or his legal situation, and 3% mention worry that he could be convicted or imprisoned. Overall, 18% say they have no concerns about Trump as a candidate or offer a positive comment about him. After that, 8% say their biggest worry is that his opponents will attack him or not work with him, 8% that they are concerned about “his mouth,” tact and abrasiveness, 7% that he’s too disliked and treated unfairly, and 6% name his ego or arrogance.

There are wide differences in this question between those who back Trump now and those supporting other candidates. Nearly 3 in 10 Trump backers say they have no concerns (29%), 12% mention opposition attacks, 8% that elections are rigged against him, 7% that he’s too disliked, 6% his tact level and 5% the indictments. By contrast, some of the top concerns about Trump among Republican-aligned voters who support others are dishonesty and corruption (11%), his tact level (9%), his ego or arrogance (9%), electability (9%), indictments (8%) and erratic or unstable behavior (7%).

Candidate preferences more locked in now than in previous cycles

Republican-aligned voters in the poll who have a first-choice candidate broadly say that policy positions matter more than character and personal traits in deciding their vote – 77% feel their candidate’s positions on the issues are the main reason for their support. Just 14% say they are deciding because of a candidate’s character and personal traits and 8% due to dislike of the other choices. Those behind Trump are almost universal in saying it’s driven by the issues: 89% say so, compared with 63% among those who back other candidates.

Trump is widely seen as best able to handle each of the eight issues tested in the poll. The closest any other candidate comes to reaching Trump on the issues is DeSantis on education and school policies, where he trails Trump by 20 points. Still, there is some variation in the degree of trust Republican-aligned voters place in the former president over his rivals. Majorities see Trump as best able to handle the economy (69%), immigration (65%), the situation in Ukraine (63%), limiting government overreach (59%) and crime and safety (54%). About half see Trump as best on climate and energy policies (49%), with fewer naming him on abortion (44%) and education and school policies (42%). DeSantis lands as a clear second behind Trump on nearly all of these issues, with two notable exceptions. On Ukraine, Haley (at 8%), Pence (7%) and DeSantis (7%) cluster behind Trump, while on abortion, DeSantis (at 14%) and Haley (13%) form a second tier.

All told, 63% of Republican and Republican-leaning voters now say they will definitely support their first-choice candidate, while 37% could change their minds or have not chosen any candidate. Those figures are broadly driven by Trump’s supporters – 83% of whom say they’ve made up their minds compared with 43% of those who pick another candidate as their first choice — and suggest that nomination preferences are significantly more locked in now than in previous cycles, according to CNN polling. In October 2019, just 43% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters were as firmly decided on the next year’s presidential primary, and even as late as January 2016, only about half (49%) of Republican and Republican-leaning voters said they were locked in to their first choice.

Ramaswamy’s standing improves while DeSantis loses ground

The poll suggests only a slight shuffling since the first primary debate in the race for second place. While 67% of Republican and Republican-leaning voters who watched or closely followed news about the event said it was helpful to them in deciding whom to support, the candidates rated as performing best appear to have gotten only a minor boost, if any, in their overall backing.

Those who followed it said Ramaswamy (30%) and DeSantis (28%) had the best night, with Haley (20%) not far behind. Coming out of the debate, those who followed it also said DeSantis (51%) and Ramaswamy (46%) are the candidates they’d most like to hear more about. Around 4 in 10 also want to hear more about either Haley (40%) or Scott (37%).

But Ramaswamy is the only debate participant whose standing in the race has shown significant improvement since June, rising from just 1% support to 6%. Haley has been steadily between 5% and 7% in each CNN poll on the race, with Scott between 2% and 4%, while DeSantis has lost meaningful ground over the summer.

Among moderate and liberal GOP-aligned voters, DeSantis held a clear second place to Trump in June (22% backed him); second place in this group is now a tie between DeSantis (12%) and Haley (12%). Among conservatives, DeSantis has also lost ground (from 28% in June to 20% now), but the rest of the non-Trump field remains in single digits with that group.

Most GOP voters say they either support or would consider supporting Trump (81%), DeSantis (78%), Scott (63%), Haley (63%) and Ramaswamy (58%). There have been few changes in this metric for Trump, Scott or Haley over the course of CNN’s polling since May, but the share willing to consider DeSantis has dipped 7 points in that time while the share willing to consider Ramaswamy is up 10 points.

Half or more have ruled out Pence (50%, up 5 points since May), Burgum (58%, about the same as 60% in June, the first point for which CNN has full trend for Burgum), Hutchinson (61%, up 6 points since May) and Christie (66%, up 6 points since May).

The CNN Poll was conducted by SSRS from August 25-31 among a random national sample of 1,503 adults drawn from a probability-based panel, including 784 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who are registered to vote. The survey included an oversample to reach a total of 898 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents; this group has been weighted to its proper size within the population. Surveys were either conducted online or by telephone with a live interviewer. Results among the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 points; among Republican and Republican-leaning voters, the margin of sampling error is 4.4 points.

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