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A new poll shows why to be skeptical of voters changing their minds

The central political question of the guilty verdict handed down at Donald Trump’s criminal trial in Manhattan is the same question that comes up whenever nearly anything else happens: Does this shift the trajectory of a remarkably static presidential race?

Immediately after the verdict, Trump touted a poll in which he claimed to have seen a spike in support. Critics of the former president, meanwhile, claimed that his position has weakened. Recognizing that it’s still relatively soon after the verdict (at least in quality polling), the reality is that neither the polling average nor many polls show any big shifts.

But this impulse from Trump supporters and opponents to claim movement is important. It’s a motivation that’s important to consider when looking at polling data, as new polling from 19th News, conducted by SurveyMonkey, makes clear.

The poll found that most Americans were already familiar with the verdict in the New York trial — 34 convictions on felony charges related to efforts to bury a negative story before the 2016 election. There were patterns among those who had not heard about the verdict before being contacted by the pollster: They were more likely to be political independents (excluding ones who lean toward one party or the other), were less likely to say they paid close attention to the trial and less likely to say they understood the charges on which Trump was convicted.

Those patterns were similar when SurveyMonkey asked if respondents agreed with the verdict. Democrats did, Republicans didn’t and independents weren’t really sure. Neither were those who didn’t pay much attention to the trial.

Most respondents, though, believed that Trump did commit a crime. But the pattern above reemerged when they were asked if the trial was fair: the same groups that hadn’t heard about the verdict and weren’t tracking the trial were less sure if the process was fair.

This is a fundamental component of this election and American politics in general: Many people don’t pay close attention to even objectively important developments. That tends to be more true of political independents, people who are not attached to political parties. It is also particularly true of younger Americans, who are more likely to identify as independents.

In the 19th News poll, more than a quarter of those under 35 said they hadn’t heard of the Trump verdict, a striking lack of familiarity with one of the biggest news stories in recent American history.

Perhaps you noticed that the first question also offered an assessment of familiarity with the verdict among those who told SurveyMonkey that they did or didn’t change their vote based on the verdict. The pollster approached this question (the one with which we began) from an interesting perspective, asking questions about the verdict and then assessing support for President Biden or Trump before asking a follow-up question: how would the respondent have expressed their support before hearing about the verdict?

About 1 in 10 respondents said that their support changed after the verdict. SurveyMonkey broke out those shifts by movement — from Trump to Biden, from undecided to third party, from Biden to not voting, etc. In short, it looks like the chart below.

This is admittedly complicated, but perhaps not as complicated as it might seem. Lines coming in to one of the black bars — labeled Biden, Trump, etc. — are people who moved their vote to that position. Lines coming out are people who moved away — so all the blue lines are people who said they used to support Biden but, after the verdict, no longer do. If the lines coming into a black bar from above are cumulatively wider than those going out, that position saw a net gain.

Let’s focus on one bit of movement, those who claim to have gone from undecided to Biden or Trump. You can see that the undecided-to-Trump line is much thicker than the undecided-to-Biden line — suggesting that far more people who were undecided before the verdict then switched to support the former president.

But if we look solely at the responses from Republicans, we see that a plurality of those who indicate making a change after the verdict went from being undecided to supporting Trump. Another reasonably large chunk say they went from Trump to undecided.

Okay, maybe. Or maybe these are people who want to suggest that they moved, to reinforce the importance of the verdict by claiming that it prompted them to change their position. For Trump supporters, that means suggesting that the verdict was so unfair that they were suddenly prompted to back the former president. For Trump opponents within his party, they get to suggest that the verdict was disqualifying.

Worth noting: the top-line support for Trump and Biden (and for not voting or voting third party) didn’t budge before or after considering the verdict.

It is often the case that people, when asked, attribute existing political beliefs to new information when the opposite is the case. They will say, for example, that learning about X scandal or Y policy makes them more likely to support their candidate, even though they were going to support that candidate all along.

This poll offers something similar. According to SurveyMonkey, 1 in 10 Republicans changed their mind following the verdict. One in 20 went from undecided to Trump or from Trump to undecided. And support among Republicans for Trump went from 73 percent before hearing about the verdict to 74 percent after.

It’s possible that none of those views were particularly dependent on the verdict at all.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post