What Polling Tells Us About What a Trump Conviction Would Mean

We have a presidential election between two candidates that few Americans wanted to see. As much as people argue and complain about polling, it’s one of the tools we have to understand what’s going on in the United States, and how politics has changed and could change further. What does Donald Trump’s base look like now, exactly? Who counts as an independent? When voters say they wouldn’t vote for Trump if he were convicted of a crime, should we believe them?

I spoke with David Byler, chief of research at Noble Predictive Insights and a polling expert and former writer at The Washington Post and The Weekly Standard, who told me, “We’re in this era where candidates are just always going to be in a position where one of them could catch up. We’re too polarized for anything else.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity and is part of an Opinion Q. and A. series exploring modern conservatism today, its influence in society and politics and how and why it differs (and doesn’t) from the conservative movement that most Americans thought they knew.

Jane Coaston: Is the MAGA base more or less powerful than it was in 2020 and 2016?

David Byler: The MAGA base is more powerful than it was in 2016 because it’s acquired other parts of the Republican base. You can look at the difference between Trump’s numbers in this primary and the primary eight years ago among very conservative voters. There are groups that believe in conservative ideology or there are demographic groups like white evangelicals, especially church-attending white evangelicals, who once harbored skepticism toward Trump, that now have been folded into the MAGA wing with populists who were already there. Because there was no real primary in 2020, we don’t have a clean one-to-one test in that way, but I would say that Trump trades some of these suburbanite Republicans for other voters, sometimes Black and Latino voters. According to some polls, you’re getting a more and more MAGA Republican Party with younger Republican voters.

Coaston: So you mentioned people who are shakier Trump voters, people who, as you mentioned, considered a different Republican during the primaries or may have. Basically, what are the potential problem areas for Trump?

Byler: One really direct way to get at this is to ask people whether they’re more of a supporter of Trump or more of a supporter of the Republican Party. Maybe they live in the suburbs, maybe they’re college educated. There’s something that pushes them away from the current Trumpian G.O.P., but they hold conservative beliefs at the same time.

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