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Vanderbilt Unity Poll reveals a Trump conviction could significantly impact centrist voters

The Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy released national polling results measuring Americans’ unity and beliefs on government and democracy. 

The results of the latest Vanderbilt Unity Poll show that a conviction by a jury of Donald Trump would hurt him among two key groups: traditional Republicans and Independents.

Among traditional Republicans, 26 percent said a conviction would decrease the chances they would vote for him, while 10 percent said a conviction would increase the chances. Among Independents, 31 percent said it would reduce the chances of voting for the former president, with 8 percent indicating it would increase the odds. Republicans who identify as MAGA were just the opposite, with 25 percent saying a conviction would increase the chances of voting for him and just 4 percent citing a lower chance. These data suggest a jury conviction would lessen Trump’s prospects with more centrist voters, which could cost him some battleground states in the general election.   

The Vanderbilt Unity Poll is an undertaking of the Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy. “It provides quarterly readings of Americans’ opinions about the extent of polarization and the condition of our democratic institutions,” said John Geer, senior advisor to the chancellor and head of the Unity Project.  

The survey also revealed that people overwhelmingly don’t believe their political systems are representing them. More than 80 percent of respondents were not confident the American political system accurately reflects their will, and this lack of representation surfaces in another survey question. Answers showed overwhelming agreement on access to abortion if the unborn child cannot survive outside the womb, with 82 percent across parties believing abortion should be allowed. About three-quarters of Republicans believed a woman should be allowed to have an abortion under these circumstances, yet many states seem to ignore that strong public sentiment. For example: Recent judicial and legislative actions in Texas denied a woman with a nonviable fetus the opportunity to terminate her pregnancy. 

The survey revealed a possible cause of a highly polarized country. Only 10 percent of people surveyed report talking about politics with someone who has an opposing viewpoint more than once a week. 58 percent report having conversations with people with opposing political views only a few times a year, if at all. People have, in effect, sorted themselves into environments that reinforce their own views, as opposed to fostering settings where they come across people with different perspectives. 

In recent months, former President Trump has called for more executive authority at the federal level, and many of his aides are planning ways to consolidate power in the presidency. Yet the public has little appetite for increasing the power of the president. Only six percent of the public thought such a change was a good idea, with nearly one in four Americans wanting to see a less powerful president. The majority (63 percent) are happy with how things stand now.  

The Unity Poll also interviewed respondents about their confidence in several institutions in the direct aftermath of the controversial testimony of three prominent university presidents in front of Congress. Despite the widespread and high-profile coverage of that testimony, universities retained at least some confidence from 74 percent of those polled. Universities received higher marks than K-12 education (70 percent), tech companies (63 percent), the national news media (46 percent) and the national government (48 percent). Only the military scored better, with 84 percent of the public expressing at least some confidence in this institution.   

With a looming deadline in Congress and a compromise budget deal on the table, a substantial majority of Americans surveyed (69 percent) continue to want elected officials to compromise with political opponents to get things done. Still, less than half of Americans surveyed (38 percent) are confident that the country can unite to solve important problems.  

The Unity Poll data still reflect the perception of a divided nation: 

  • 82 percent of people surveyed see the country as somewhat or mostly divided  
  • 62 percent of people surveyed think it’s unlikely Americans will unite to solve important problems facing the country 
  • 59 percent of people surveyed are confident votes will be counted properly in the 2024 presidential election 

In addition to questions addressing topics in the news, The Vanderbilt Unity Poll asks a set of identical questions each quarter, which allows for tracking changes in the public’s thinking about key features of U.S. democratic institutions. Such an approach provides a valuable way to establish critical baselines that allow more insight into the public’s thinking. 

As part of an effort to bring new evidence to bear, the Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy also sponsors the Vanderbilt Unity Index.  

This quarter’s Vanderbilt Unity Poll was conducted by SSRS on its Opinion Panel Omnibus Platform. A total of 1,036 respondents, ages 18 and older, across several platforms and in Spanish and English, responded between Dec. 15 and Dec. 17, 2023. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.6 at the 95 percent confidence level. 

The Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy aims to elevate evidence and reason in the national discourse by supplanting ideology with fact. With its geographic location, enduring commitment to tackling society’s grand challenges and formidable intellectual talent on campus, Vanderbilt is committed to advancing a more informed national conversation.   

The project is a part of Dialogue Vanderbilt, the university’s broader effort to reinforce its commitment to free expression and bring together resources to help re-establish norms of civil discourse, evidence-based conversations and mutual respect—even amid disagreement.