It’s the go-to refrain for Democrats watching Joe Biden fall behind Donald Trump in polls: Just wait until Trump is convicted.
Yes, Biden’s historically unpopular. Yes, views of his job performance are growing increasingly negative. But if a jury of Trump’s peers in Manhattan, or South Florida, or Atlanta or Washington convicts him before Election Day, they say, it would have a dramatic impact on the race.
They’re probably wrong.
The evidence so far suggests the race might shift only slightly, by a few points. That could be important in another close election, but it’s not the kind of Trump collapse that Democrats may hope for — or Biden may need if his numbers don’t improve.
Trump’s legal peril is unprecedented, and the sentiment that a criminal conviction could be a mortal wound to his candidacy is mostly driven by political intuition right now. But we’re starting to get more data on how a conviction would affect Trump’s chances to defeat Biden, thanks to pollsters who’ve asked voters what they would do if a jury found Trump guilty.
Take last week’s Wall Street Journal poll. Trump led Biden by 4 percentage points in a head-to-head matchup, 47 percent to 43 percent. The race shifted only slightly, to a 1-point Biden lead, among respondents who were also asked what they would do if Trump were convicted in either of the two federal cases, either for unlawfully possessing classified documents or conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Since only about half of the respondents were asked about a hypothetical Trump conviction, the two results aren’t directly comparable. But they suggest a massive swing against Trump is unlikely. And the margins are small: With just a 1-point lead in a hypothetical Trump conviction scenario, Democrats can’t rely on a small post-conviction swing tipping the race. [Continue reading…]