Earlier this summer, Donald Trump’s formerly rock-solid support among Republicans seemed to be wavering as a majority of party loyalists said they were open to backing a different GOP presidential nominee in 2024.
But the FBI’s decision to search Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property for highly classified documents on Aug. 8 — coupled with the former president’s furious pushback — appears to have changed that.
According to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll, a majority of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents now prefer Trump (54%) over “someone else” (34%) for the 2024 nomination. Right before the Mar-a-Lago search, those numbers were 47% and 38%, respectively.
Likewise, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (34%) was within striking distance of Trump (44%) in a one-on-one matchup before the Mar-a-Lago search. Since then, Trump has opened up a wider 18-point lead — 49% to 31% — over his potential rival, according to the new poll.
Yet at the same time, a full 56% of Americans say Trump should not be “allowed to serve as president again in the future” if he is “found guilty of mishandling highly classified documents” — which is precisely what the FBI is investigating him for. Only 26% say Trump should be permitted to assume the presidency again in that scenario.
The survey of 1,563 U.S. adults, which was conducted from Aug. 18 to 22, underscores both the political risks and rewards for Trump of the Mar-a-Lago situation. On the one hand, Republicans seem to be rallying around him in response to the search, bolstering his chances of facing off against President Biden again in 2024. On the other hand, a clear majority of Americans view mishandling highly classified documents as a disqualifying offense.
The question that could determine Trump’s political future is what kind of proof emerges in the weeks and months ahead.
Americans are unambiguous about the ethics here. A full 77% — including 76% of Republicans — say that presidents should be “very careful” when “handling highly classified documents and information.” Nearly six in 10 (58%) say it was “wrong” for Trump to “take highly classified documents with him to Mar-a-Lago after leaving office”; just 15% say it was “right.” A majority (54%) also say it was “illegal” (compared with a mere 20% who say it was “legal”).
What’s more ambiguous, and more divided along partisan lines, are views about what exactly Trump has or has not done — and what U.S. authorities should do in response. Nearly every question that touches on these issues elicits the same numbers: a plurality (in the mid- to high 40s) who are convinced of Trump’s wrongdoing, a minority (in the low 30s) who are convinced of the opposite, and about 20% to 25% who are unsure. For instance:
● 48% of Americans think the search was “justified”; 34% think it was “unjustified”; 18% are unsure.
● 46% of Americans say they think Trump is “hiding something” about the documents; 30% do not; 24% are unsure.
● 46% say Trump did not “fully cooperate” with the Justice Department when asked to return the documents; 29% say he did cooperate; 24% are unsure.
● 47% say the Department of Justice should prosecute Trump for taking highly classified documents; 32% think he should not be prosecuted; 20% are unsure.
● 48% say the FBI is treating Trump “fairly”; 31% say it is treating Trump “unfairly”; 20% are unsure.
In each case, about 80% of Democrats are siding against Trump, while only about 60% to 65% of Republicans are siding with him. Significant minorities of Republicans and independents remain unsure. Strikingly, a plurality of Republicans say they’re “not sure” whether it was legal or illegal for Trump to take (38%) or keep (43%) the documents.
This suggests real potential for movement if the Justice Department chooses to charge Trump — and a court eventually convicts him. But those are very big ifs. And Trump, who successfully persuaded Republicans to back his false claim that the 2020 election was stolen, may yet win over hesitant GOP voters here.
More immediately, Mar-a-Lago appears to be helping Trump consolidate his position among GOP voters before the 2024 presidential primaries (even as Biden continues to lead 46% to 42% in a general election matchup among all registered voters). A full 57% of Republicans now say Trump would be a stronger candidate in 2024 than he was in 2020. Just 17% say he would be weaker. Even more say Trump is helping (62%) rather than hurting (22%) the GOP.
Conversely, huge majorities of Republicans and 2020 Trump voters — groups that traditionally favor strict law enforcement — now express negative views about the FBI, the Department of Justice and Attorney General Merrick Garland:
● 58% of Republicans and 69% of 2020 Trump voters rate the FBI unfavorably.
● 50% of Republicans and 61% among Trump voters rate Garland unfavorably.
● 65% of Republicans and 77% of Trump voters express little or no confidence in the Department of Justice.
Going even further, a full 59% of Trump voters say Garland “should be impeached over authorizing the search of Mar-a-Lago”; even more (77%) “think there should be an investigation of the FBI’s conduct in searching Mar-a-Lago.” A plurality of Trump voters say the FBI “should be defunded for searching Mar-a-Lago” (37%), while the same number believe “the FBI planted evidence against Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago” (38%) — and another 45% say they’re not sure.
On the flip side, 56% of Biden voters — and 62% of MSNBC viewers — think “Trump was planning to sell state secrets” before the FBI search. There’s no public evidence of either that or Trump’s claim that the FBI planted evidence against him.
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,563 U.S. adults interviewed online from Aug. 18 to Aug. 22, 2022. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or nonvote) and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.6%.