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As former President Donald Trump awaits outcomes from multiple investigations, three-quarters of U.S. adults think he has done something illegal or unethical, according to the latest PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll. Yet scandals appear to have done little to tarnish Trump’s appeal among potential Republican voters as he runs for the White House again. About three-quarters of Republicans say they want him to be reelected, and a similar percentage give no credence to the ongoing probes.
Currently, the former president is the focus of four different investigations of misconduct at the federal, state and local levels. In New York City, a grand jury is considering whether to indict Trump over allegations that he paid hush money to Stephanie Clifford – also known as Stormy Daniels – ahead of the 2016 presidential election. No sitting or former U.S. president has ever been criminally charged.
Taking a closer look at people’s perceptions of Trump, 46 percent of Americans think he has broken the law. At the same time, 29 percent of Americans say they believe he has done nothing illegal, but that the former president has done something unethical.
Chart by Megan McGrew/PBS NewsHour
A little more than one out of five Americans – 23 percent – think Trump has done nothing wrong. Republicans were twice as likely as Americans overall to find no fault in Trump’s actions as they pertain to the investigations in which he is currently enmeshed.
READ MORE: Trump faces 4 investigations. Here’s where they stand
Years after leaving office, Trump remains embroiled in legal turmoil and boasts that these scandals help his political prospects, rallying “Republicans to his defense,” said Amy Walter, editor of the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter.
Trump predicted incorrectly on social media that he would be arrested last week and urged his supporters to “take our nation back.” While few people showed up to protest on his behalf, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg received a death threat on Friday, hours after Trump warned that a charge against him could result in “potential death [and] destruction,” underscoring concerns about Trump’s ability to inspire violent backlash.
Though the former president has railed against the investigations he faces, a majority of Americans — 56 percent — think the investigations are fair. Meanwhile, eight out of 10 Republicans take the opposite perspective, viewing these investigations more as a witch hunt. Independents, who have helped decide the last two elections, are split over if they see the investigations into Trump’s actions as justified.
“Opinions about the former president don’t really change all that much,” Walter said. Despite that, she added, Trump’s favorability among Republicans has fluctuated and is not as strong as when he was in office, which is “not surprising – out of sight, out of mind.”
Americans are split over how favorably they view Trump. About half of Americans – 51 percent – said they regard Trump unfavorably. At the same time, 39 percent of Americans say they think favorably of him – an attitude that has seen little meaningful movement since before Trump entered the White House.
Republicans are twice as likely as the average U.S. adult to say they want to see Trump reelected. But asking that question implicitly poses another, conservative strategist Whit Ayres said: How badly do they want President Joe Biden out of the White House?
WATCH: How Trump’s possible indictments will influence Republican political strategy
Three factions – people who would never elect Trump, people who simply want a candidate who can take back the White House and people who would “walk through a wall for him” – make up the Republican Party right now, Ayres said.
While headlines about Trump’s legal troubles may refresh the loyalty of his most ardent supporters, Walter cautioned that Trump’s investigations could “alienate the swing voters you’d need to win a general election.” Furthermore, she said, this series of unprecedented investigations could be self-defeating “if the weight becomes so heavy it actually does push Republicans away from him.”
With 2024 presidential primaries starting in less than a year, much can change, Ayres said, adding, “The Republican primary is wide open.”
PBS NewsHour, NPR and Marist Poll conducted a survey between March 20 and March 23 that polled 1,327 U.S. adults with a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points and 1,226 registered voters with a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points.
Laura Santhanam is the Health Reporter and Coordinating Producer for Polling for the PBS NewsHour, where she has also worked as the Data Producer. Follow @LauraSanthanam
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