Trump’s lead over Biden narrows after conviction, analysis shows

After a Manhattan jury found Donald Trump guilty on 34 felony counts last week, Republicans rallied around the former president, insisting the verdict would only damage Joe Biden’s standing in the presidential election.

But some new polling data casts doubt upon that argument, as a small but crucial number of Americans in key voting blocs appear to be moving toward Biden in the aftermath of the verdict.

According to a post-verdict analysis of nearly 2,000 interviews with voters who previously participated in New York Times/Siena College surveys, Trump’s advantage over the president has narrowed from three points to one point. That shift may seem insignificant, but it could prove decisive in a close presidential election, as is expected in this year’s contest. In 2020, just 44,000 votes across three battleground states prevented a tie in the electoral college.

Perhaps more worrisome for Trump is the specific areas where he appears to be bleeding support. According to the Times analysis, disengaged Democratic-leaning voters and those who dislike both Trump and Biden were more likely to say that the verdict made them reconsider their options in the election.

Both of those voting groups have played a significant role in boosting Trump’s polling performance in recent months. Among those who voted for Biden in 2020 and previously indicated that they would back Trump this year, roughly one-fourth said they would now support the incumbent president. Voters who dislike both candidates, the so-called “double haters”, are viewed as particularly influential this year, and the Times analysis showed Trump losing more than one-fifth of his pre-verdict support among those voters.

Related: ‘I’d enjoy seeing him go to prison’: voters react to guilty verdict in Trump trial

Polling data compiled after Trump’s conviction is still somewhat limited, but at least one other post-verdict survey corroborated the Times’ findings. The Republican firm Echelon Insights conducted a study showing Biden with a two-point advantage over Trump among recontacted voters, while those same respondents’ answers indicated a tie between the two candidates before the jury delivered its verdict.

But other warning signs remain for Biden, particularly in the battleground states that he will need to win to secure re-election. A Quinnipiac University poll of voters in Georgia, which Biden won by 0.2 points in 2020, showed Trump with a five-point lead in a head-to-head match-up against the incumbent, although that result was within the survey’s margin of error. When other candidates, including independent Robert F Kennedy, were added to the list of options, Trump’s lead grew to six points, which was outside the margin of error.

Even as the survey showed Biden trailing in Georgia, the poll also found that 50% of voters in the battleground state agreed with the verdict in the Manhattan case, underscoring the mixed feelings triggered by Trump’s conviction.

A Times Opinion focus group of 11 undecided voters, conducted hours after the verdict was announced last week, reflected an array of opinions on the outcome of the case, with some participants say they were increasingly leaning toward supporting Kennedy. At least one person said the verdict made him less likely to vote for Biden, arguing that Trump’s conviction made Biden look “ungracious”. Another voter said Biden has “dirty hands on this”, an apparent reference to Trump’s baseless claims of political persecution.

“I guess I thought Joe Biden was above this,” said John, a 58-year-old white customer relations employee from Pennsylvania.

And yet, other focus group participants indicated the verdict had changed their opinion of Trump for the worse, echoing the findings of the Times analysis. One voter named Ben, a 42-year-old white college adviser from Texas, suggested he was leaning toward Biden because Trump’s conviction proved his incompetence.

“What’s the big deal about bribing Stormy Daniels? But I want a president who’s going to be able to cover up a $130,000 bribe to Daniels,” Ben said. “If he can’t pull that off, I’m not going to trust him with the nuclear football. This seems like such an easy thing for him to screw up. I’m kind of leaning toward Biden now.”

With five months to go until election day, voters still have time to consider – and reconsider – their thoughts on Trump’s conviction.

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