There is an assumption, probably particularly among those who cover the news and those who read it, that Donald Trump’s legal travails are common knowledge. We talk about things like the potential effects of a Trump conviction on the 2024 presidential election with the assumption that this would be an event that rose to the nation’s consciousness, triggering a response from both his supporters and detractors.
But this is a sort of vanity: Just because it is interesting to us certainly doesn’t mean it is interesting to others. Polling released by CNN on Thursday shows that only a quarter of voters seek out news about the campaign; a third pay little to no attention at all.
As it turns out, even major developments often fly under the average American’s radar. New polling conducted by YouGov shows that only a bit over half of the country on average is aware of the various legal challenges Trump faces. And among those Republicans on whose political support he depends? Consistently, only a minority say they are aware of his lawsuits and charges.
YouGov presented American adults with eight legal scenarios to judge the extent of the public’s awareness. Two were invented: that Trump faces charges related to emoluments or related to drug trafficking. Happily, less than a quarter of respondents said those legal threats actually existed.
The other six were real. The one that was familiar to the most people was the federal classified-documents case that is moving forward in Florida; 6 in 10 Americans said they were aware of that case. The one that had the least awareness was the civil suit in New York in which a judge determined that he’d fraudulently inflated the value of his assets. Just under 50 percent of Americans knew about that.
But the pattern among Republicans is clear. At most, 45 percent of Republicans said they knew about legal issues: specifically, the documents case and his being found liable for assaulting the writer E. Jean Carroll. Only a quarter knew about the value-inflation suit, and only 4 in 10 knew about the criminal charges in Manhattan related to the hush money payments to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels.
Democrats were more likely to say they believed Trump faced potential criminal sanction on emoluments, which isn’t true. But that was still less than 50 percent.
On average, only 4 in 10 Republicans said they were aware of the real legal issues. On average, Democrats were more than 30 points more likely to say that they were.
Often, Republicans said they weren’t sure whether the legal threat was real. But it was consistently the case that more Republicans said that, no, those legal issues didn’t exist than said they didn’t know — even though the legal issues very much do. Asked about the fraudulent valuations and the indictment centered on election certification, a plurality of Republicans said that they were not aware of the issues.
It seems very safe to assume this lack of familiarity derives from disinterest in hearing negative information about Trump — and, probably more importantly, the disinterest of conservative and right-wing media outlets to report on them. In May, The Washington Post looked at the extent to which Fox News covered the documents and Daniels cases relative to other cable-news channels. It did so much less frequently.
This is useful context when estimating what the political effects of Trump’s trials might be. YouGov also released the results of polling it conducted for Yahoo News this week, in which it explored other aspects of Trump’s legal issues.
For example, the poll found that most Americans think a conviction would be a fair outcome from Trump’s criminal trials. Among Republicans and those who say they voted for Trump in 2020, though, most would view such a result as unfair. Makes sense, given that most Republicans say they haven’t even heard of the criminal trials.
Those results look very much like the results YouGov got when it asked Americans which they viewed as a more important issue for presidential fitness: Trump’s indictments or President Biden’s age. About 4 in 10 respondents chose each option.
It’s important to point out that the responses from independents mostly matched the overall numbers, which is often the case. That means only about half of independents are aware of Trump’s legal issues — potentially meaning there is a large group of Americans who might suddenly learn the details of what’s been alleged if Trump is convicted of a crime.
That is the sort of thing that might have a measurable political effect.