Donald J. Trump continues to march to the 2024 Republican presidential nomination with a commanding lead over his primary rivals, even as a strong majority of voters nationwide believe he has committed serious federal crimes, including a growing faction of Republicans, according to a new poll from The New York Times and Siena College.
The results show the remarkable degree to which Republican voters are willing to look past Mr. Trump’s legal jeopardy — the former president has been indicted four times in 2023 and faces 91 felony counts — and line up behind his potential return to power.
Overall, 58 percent of voters nationwide believe Mr. Trump committed serious federal crimes, according to the survey, including 66 percent of independent voters.
Yet Mr. Trump continues to clobber his closest Republican competitors in the primary by more than 50 percentage points, pulling in the support of 64 percent of Republican primary voters nationwide. Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador, is now in a distant second place, with 11 percent, followed by Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who has fallen to third, with 9 percent.
The poll was conducted before a court ruling on Tuesday injected more legal uncertainty into the 2024 presidential race. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Trump is disqualified from holding office again because he engaged in insurrection leading up to the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol, a decision the former president plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mr. Trump’s primary lead has swelled since the summer, even though the share of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who believe he engaged in criminality rose to 27 percent from 17 percent in July. Mr. Trump is leading not only because he dominates among the large share of Republicans who see him as innocent, but also because he is winning one in three Republican voters who think he engaged in serious criminality.
Support for Mr. Trump in the Times/Siena poll is so thorough that 62 percent of Republicans think that if the former president wins the primary he should remain the Republican Party’s nominee — even if he is subsequently convicted of a federal crime.
“What they’re doing to the man is a crime,” James Howe, 81, a retired airline worker in Phoenix, said of Mr. Trump. “There’s been nobody in the history of this country that so many people have tried to convict him of a crime.”
But there are stark warning signs for Mr. Trump about the impact of his legal jeopardy in a potential matchup with President Biden. More than one in five Republican voters think Mr. Trump has committed crimes, and 13 percent of Republicans believe that he should be found guilty in court of trying to overturn the 2020 election. For now, Mr. Biden is winning only one-third of Republicans who think that Mr. Trump should be found guilty, leaving Mr. Biden room to gain support.
Mr. Trump’s political and legal fates appear increasingly intertwined, with his lawyers seeking to delay his coming trials. While Mr. Trump’s indictments do not appear to be an impediment to his potential nomination, the 32 percent of Republicans who think a conviction will mean the party should nominate someone else could provide fertile electoral ground for Democrats.
Many voters readily admitted that they had not fully tuned into Mr. Trump’s legal travails. The charges he faces are related to, among other things, his seeking to overturn the 2020 election, his alleged mishandling of classified documents and his hush-money payments to a porn star in 2016.
Roughly half of voters said they were paying only a little attention or none at all to the cases, with Democrats paying more attention than Republicans or independent voters. It remains unclear whether any of the trialswill begin before the general election next fall, but Mr. Trump’s legal team is preparing for the likelihood that one of the cases could start as early as March.
A majority of voters, 53 percent, said they saw Mr. Trump as somewhat or very unlikely to be convicted in the 2020 election case, compared with 35 percent who saw a conviction as very or somewhat likely.
In many ways, public opinion about the accusations against Mr. Trump appears to have been refracted, if not warped, through the same polarized lens that colors so much of how Americans consume political news these days.
“Him taking those classified documents home — you know, that’s obviously illegal. It’s against the law, but I don’t think it’s as big a deal as they’re making it,” said Clifford McRoberts, 72, who lives in Bay Point, Calif., and operates a small online store.
A conviction, he said, would not deter his Trump vote.
“No, no, not at all,” Mr. McRoberts said. “I voted for Nixon, too.”
“I don’t think it’s as big a deal as they’re making it,” Clifford McRoberts, 72, of Bay Point, Calif., said of Mr. Trump’s classified documents case. Credit…Loren Elliott for The New York Times
A full 83 percent of Republicans view Mr. Trump’s prosecutions as politically motivated. And 84 percent of Democrats said he was charged because prosecutors believed he had broken the law.
Voters in the poll were also equally split — 47 percent to 47 percent — over whether Mr. Trump genuinely believed the election had been stolen or was knowingly making false claims. And, again, more than 80 percent of both Democrats and Republicans sided with their political tribes.
Perhaps as a result, the array of charges against Mr. Trump so far do not appear to be helping Mr. Biden politically.
Mr. Trump leads Mr. Biden 46 percent to 44 percent among registered voters. Among those deemed likeliest to vote, however, Mr. Biden actually edges Mr. Trump, 47 percent to 45 percent. In a sign of Mr. Biden’s weakness among registered voters, his level of support is actually lower than the share of voters — 47 percent — who believe that Mr. Trump should be found guilty of trying to overturn the 2020 election.
Reservations about Mr. Biden are undercutting concerns about Mr. Trump’s criminality for some voters.
Allison Sullender, 39, a self-described independent voter who lives in San Bernardino, Calif., said she was undecided about her 2024 vote. She sees Mr. Trump as a “crooked businessman,” but has deep concerns about Mr. Biden’s age and the economy.
For now, she’s leaning toward the Democrat. “But do I feel confident in him doing another four years?” she said. “No, I don’t.”
There is an enormous educational gulf when it comes to how voters view the criminal charges against Mr. Trump.
Among those with a college degree, 64 percent believe Mr. Trump has been charged because prosecutors believe he committed crimes. Those without a college education take the opposite view: 54 percent of them see the charges as politically motivated.
By a wide margin, college graduates think Mr. Trump should be found guilty of trying to overturn the 2020 election. Voters who did not graduate from college take the opposite position.
The education divide is apparent inside the Republican Party, too.
By an enormous margin — 70 percent to 25 percent — Republicans without college degrees think Mr. Trump should remain the nominee even if he is convicted. Yet among Republican college graduates opinion is evenly split.
If, as expected, the 2020 election case goes to trial, 47 percent of voters said Mr. Trump should be found guilty, compared with 39 percent who said not guilty. But confidence in the fairness of a trial was not widespread: 43 percent said a trial would be fair and impartial compared with 49 percent who said it would not be.
“I don’t believe that our justice system will give him a fair trial,” said Nykhael Kim, 39, a sales manager in Easley, S.C., who is supporting Mr. DeSantis in the primary but still sees the prosecution of Mr. Trump as “politically motivated.”
Fifty percent of voters — including 18 percent of Republicans — said that if Mr. Trump were convicted, he should be sentenced to prison.
When it comes to the presidential primary, the poll shows precious few signs of political vulnerability for Mr. Trump less than a month before balloting begins. He is dominating Ms. Haley and Mr. DeSantis among Republican voters of every age and income level, in cities, rural areas and suburbs. Mr. Trump is winning 80 percent of G.O.P. primary voters who do not think he committed serious crimes — and 34 percent of those who think he did.
Mr. Trump’s rivals have repeatedly argued that the election will unfold state by state, beginning in Iowa and New Hampshire. But the national picture remains bleak for them, with Ms. Haley and Mr. DeSantis each hovering near 10 percent support.
The poll makes plain the vastly different political coalitions Mr. Trump’s rivals have assembled to get there.
Most of Mr. DeSantis’s voters do not think Mr. Trump has committed serious federal crimes, while most of Ms. Haley’s supporters think he has. Nearly all of Mr. DeSantis’s supporters said they would support Mr. Trump over Mr. Biden, while Ms. Haley’s supporters are more closely divided on that question.
Education is a key factor in understanding the dynamics of the Republican primary, too.
Ms. Haley is winning 28 percent of Republicans with college degrees yet only 3 percent of Republicans who did not graduate from college. Mr. Trump is winning both groups, but he pulled nearly twice as much support from Republicans who did not attend college (76 percent) as from those who did (39 percent).
Vivek Ramaswamy, the businessman, is at 5 percent in the poll, and Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey who has made the loudest case that Mr. Trump’s conduct and legal cases make him “unfit” to return to the White House, had 3 percent support.
Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.
The New York Times/Siena College poll of 1,016 registered voters nationwide was conducted by telephone using live operators from Dec. 10 to 14, 2023. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for registered voters. Cross-tabs and methodology are available here.