US Politics

Presidential Election: Does Trump's Conviction help or hinder his chances?

A protestor against Donald Trump
Trump's courtroom appearances are far from over - will his guilty verdicts sway public opinion though?

Donald Trump's conviction rocked the Befair Exchange's 2024 election markets last night with Joe Biden briefly assuming favouritism in our next President market. But what happens from here? Paul Krishnamurty analyses an unpredictable situation...

  • Polls predicted a convicted Trump would fall

  • Will witch-hunt narrative cut-through?

  • Biden looks the value at current odds

The speculation lasted so long that even those who predicted it had begun to have doubts, but the verdict was surprisingly quick. A Manhattan jury found Donald Trump guilty on all 34 counts in the 'falsifying business records' case, regarding hush money payments to Stormy Daniels. A crime without which, lest we forget, he would almost certainly never have become President in 2016.

The case is far from settled. Trump will take this through the appeals courts and it will drag on long past November's presidential election. Few seriously believe he will be jailed. The critical question for now is what impact it has on that election.

Odds move slightly towards Biden

After the verdict was announced, the betting moved wildly until settling around its current levels. From odds of 1.875/6 pre-verdict, Trump has drifted to 2.0421/20. Joe Biden has shortened from 2.89/5 to 2.526/4. More than £600,000 was wagered in the market yesterday.

That feels fair. This isn't a gamechanger but, based on what we know already from polls, Trump's chance has slightly diminished. But nobody can really know how these events will play out among the public. Not least because surprisingly few thought it would happen.

Regarding whether this helps or hinders his chances, Nate Cohn's Upshot column is a must-read. If we are to believe hypothetical polls taken before the verdict, conviction certainly hurts Trump's chances. But these polls were hypothetical and were taken when a majority of voters in swing states thought he would be cleared.

MAGA propaganda may deter defectors

We are already seeing the MAGA machine relentlessly pushing false narratives about the case, legal system, Trump's opponents and more. That Trump chose not to give testimony in his own defence is ignored. That the key witness, co-conspirator and longstanding friend of Trump, David Pecker, confessed to the crime.

These tactics usually work. It does seem incredible that a man who called for his opponent in 2016 to be locked up, despite no criminal charges, can brazenly claim any attempt to investigate him is politically motivated and illegitimate. But this is the world we live in now. Confirmation bias trumps reason or truth.

Independents, not the base, will be decisive

It is also true that the conviction will energise the base and drive donations. However Trump's MAGA base do not hold the keys to this election any more than they did in 2020. His current poll lead in swing states is less driven by them than the transfer of Biden voters from groups historically loyal to the Democrats. Young voters, minorities. As that Cohn article explains, it is among this group that Trump is vulnerable to falling back.

It is also true that these voters aren't generally paying much attention yet. There is a strong theory that Trump polls improve when out of the news. We are now set for five months of coverage of him threatening retribution, focusing on himself rather than the country, on his legal travails rather than the campaign.

Trump's base turn off independents

His extreme supporters - still in denial about the last election result and still defending the Jan 6th insurrection - will grow louder and louder. Past form shows this alienates the independent voters who determine elections. It will become ever easier for Biden to frame the election as saving democracy under him, versus dictatorship under Trump.

I think Biden is exceptionally lucky to be up against Trump. His own approvals are worse than ever, below 38%. Had the Republicans picked Nikki Haley, they would be on course for a landslide.

Remember Trump's electoral record is poor. His sole win in 2016 came despite losing the popular vote by 3M, and was aided by both Russian interference and covering up the Stormy Daniels story. He then lost the House at the 2018 mid-terms to a 'Blue Wave', then the Presidency, House and Senate in 2020. The extreme candidates he endorsed in 2022 flopped miserably.

Each time, Trump supporters and surrogates exuded unbreakable confidence throughout. Anyone who didn't buy into their magical thinking was derided, loudly, aggressively. On 2020 election night, despite the widely known fact that mail-in ballots were yet to be counted and were certain to heavily favour Biden, they were already celebrating. Trump traded down to 1.251/4 that night.

Expect a similar phenomenon in the betting. No matter how this plays out, the money will keep pouring in on Trump, from true believers.

They may be right this time. My exposure is a tiny fraction compared to the last four presidential cycles at this stage. I retain grave doubts about Biden's ability to retain his coalition.

Senate races bode well for Democrats

The gap between Presidential and Senate polls right now is quite remarkable. Democrats look well ahead in the key states - Arizona, Pennsylvania. Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan - but Trump is faring way better than his Senate candidates, Biden worse.

That speaks to Biden's unpopularity but also it seems unrealistic to think voters in this deeply polarised country are going to split their vote on that scale, between liberal, anti-racist Democrats and Trump, who promises vengeance against liberals and uses overtly fascist rhetoric against immigrants.

Another oddity in the betting is how Biden's odds are inflated due to a belief that he will be replaced on the ballot at this late stage. This theory is for the birds. He will be confirmed as the nominee within weeks and, were something to happen to him after that, Kamala Harris would be the default replacement. Michelle Obama won't be the candidate, regardless of whatever nonsense is doing the rounds in Trump media.

My last two positions, (having levelled off previously), are Biden at [2,84] and 2.89/5 last night. If he goes sub 2.35/4, I may well take the profit. But for now at least, he's the value option.

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