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How Trump’s conviction will impact the US election

WASHINGTON, DC, United States (AFP) — A panel of 12 New Yorkers were unanimous in their determination that Donald Trump is guilty as charged — but for the impact on his election prospects, the jury is still out.

The Republican billionaire was convicted of all 34 charges in New York on Thursday and now finds himself bidding for a second presidential term unsure if he’ll be spending 2025 in the Oval Office, on probation, or in jail.

The polarising case has produced months of TV coverage and furious denouncements from partisans on both sides, but for the public at large, analysts and pollsters are expecting the reaction to be a collective “meh”.

“We live in a hyper-partisan system in which voters are focused on what is termed negative partisanship — they’re voting against the candidate they like the least, not for a candidate they support,” said political scientist Nicholas Higgins.

“Given this — and particularly because the accusations are already known and Trump’s camp has framed it as a political attack — few voters will somehow be convinced that their previous view of Trump was wrong because the jury convicted him.”

Trump, who turns 78 in June, is the first criminal former president and first felon to be the nominee of a major political party, giving Democrats ample fodder for attack ads as November’s election rematch with President Joe Biden looms.

He was found to have falsified business records to misrepresent a hush-money payment just before the 2016 election to porn actress Stormy Daniels for her silence over a sexual encounter she alleges they had.

Trump — who was released without bail and is all but certain to appeal — initially sat still in the drab Manhattan courtroom, shoulders dipping.

Addressing reporters outside minutes later, though, he branded the result a “disgrace” and “rigged”, vowing that the “real verdict” would come from voters in the November 5 presidential election.

The conviction thrusts the United States into uncharted political territory.

However, it does not bar Trump from continuing his White House run, even in the unlikely event that Judge Juan Merchan sentences him to prison.

Sentencing was set for July 11 — right before the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, where Trump is due to receive the party’s formal nomination to face Democratic President Joe Biden in the election.

Part of an illegal scheme to pull the wool over voters’ eyes, the fraudulent accounting was bumped from a misdemeanour case to a suite of felony charges.

But the disgraced tycoon’s poll numbers were steady throughout the trial, and he remains neck-and-neck with Biden in national polling while leading the Democrat narrowly in most of the key swing states.

Two-thirds of respondents in the latest Marist poll said a conviction would make no difference to their vote, while the rest were almost evenly divided on whether it would make them more or less likely to support Trump.

Higgins, chair of the political science department at North Greenville University in South Carolina, expects around one percent of voters to move from Trump’s column to a third-party candidate or to not vote at all.

“But one should not expect there to be any shift to Biden because of this decision,” he said.

Other analysts argue however that even the most marginal decline in Trump’s vote share could impact an election that is expected to go down to the wire in six or seven battleground states.

“Since the election will be determined by a few thousand votes in those states, a conviction will undoubtedly hurt Trump,” said Donald Nieman, a political analyst and history professor at Binghamton University in New York State.

Jared Carter, a professor at Vermont Law and Graduate School, said that although the impact of the conviction would be marginal, it might animate Trump’s core support while alienating independents.

“And when you’re talking about a close election in a few swing states, those independent voters, perhaps the moderate Republicans, make a big difference,” he told
AFP.

“In the end, while it [will] create a lot of turmoil, a lot of headlines, and motivate his MAGA base, I think it would be a net negative and could cost him the election.”

Ray Brescia, associate dean for research at Albany Law School and a former clerk to a New York federal judge, said the conviction had special significance as the only verdict likely to come in Trump’s various criminal cases before the election.

“[How] many voters will turn away from Trump is hard to say with any precision. But even a small shift could have huge consequences,” he told
AFP.

When YouGov/Yahoo News asked Americans how they felt about the hush money trial earlier in May, 31 percent said they were bored, while only 26 percent said they were interested.

Meanwhile, only 50 percent said falsifying business records to conceal hush money payments was a serious crime.

Political scientist Nicholas Creel, of Georgia College and State University, said the conviction was likely to break through that apathy and harm Trump’s chances.

“Moreover, we have to keep in mind that this election was always going to be extremely close,” he said. “So anything that has a measurable effect on either candidate’s support could well prove to be pivotal in November.”

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