Something I’ve posited repeatedly in this space is that Donald Trump’s disappearance from most people’s everyday lives has benefited him. Most independents don’t really know much about his indictments, for instance. People might have forgotten the things they didn’t like about him if they haven’t been tracking conservative media or his rants on Truth Social. Most people aren’t truly tuning in to the 2024 election yet.
What a new CNN poll suggests: Americans know that Trump is extreme — and they’re convinced he’ll do things they see as beyond the pale — but they might elect him anyway.
The poll includes some tough-to-reconcile findings. Last week, CNN released data showing that 63 percent of Americans said Trump was “too extreme,” but he led President Biden by four points, 49 percent to 45 percent, in the 2024 race. (Thirty-eight percent said Biden was “too extreme.”)
CNN released more detailed data Monday that builds out that point. Americans say overwhelmingly that they think Trump will do some very specific, extreme things of which they overwhelmingly disapprove. But it doesn’t appear to be a red line for them — at least not yet.
The CNN poll asked about things Trump could attempt, some of which he’s spoken openly about. At least 7 in 10 Americans believe he would do each of these things:
Fire federal workers who oppose his policies (82 percent).Try to pardon himself (78 percent).Pardon most Jan. 6 defendants (77 percent).Direct his Justice Department to investigate his political rivals (74 percent).
Helpfully, the poll then asked whether people would actually favor Trump doing these things. In each case, about 7 in 10 Americans also opposed him doing them. Opposition ranges from 66 percent for firing federal workers to 72 percent for giving himself a pardon.
So roughly 7 in 10 Americans are convinced Trump will do rather drastic things that 7 in 10 Americans oppose.
The gaps are even more pronounced if you zero in on independents. For instance:
76 percent of independents think Trump will direct the Justice Department to investigate his political rivals, and 73 percent say they would oppose that.76 percent think Trump will try to pardon himself, and 77 percent oppose that.75 percent think he’ll pardon most Jan. 6 defendants, and 71 percent oppose him doing that.
The poll also shows 77 percent of independents think Trump will try to repeal Obamacare, and 65 percent of them oppose that. Seventy-seven percent think Trump wouldn’t concede a loss in the 2024 election after the results are certified, even as 85 percent say a candidate has an obligation to do so. (This is the very situation that led to Jan. 6.)
So how do these same independents plan to vote? Trump led Biden among them, 46 percent to 42 percent in the poll.
Certainly, the fact that Trump is showing slight leads in this and other polling owes in large part to Biden’s own problems. Biden’s approval (38 percent) and favorable (34 percent) ratings are at or near low points. As many as 7 in 10 doubt that he has the mental sharpness to perform his duties as president. As many as three-quarters say he’s simply too old to serve, and they have generally regarded his age as much more of an issue than Trump’s, despite less than a four-year difference.
Perhaps when given a choice between too old and too extreme, Americans might favor the latter. Polarization certainly plays a role.
What these data suggest, though, is that these are some valid and potentially potent issues for Democrats to plumb. Even more than 4 in 10 Republicans say they don’t want Trump to go there on pardons or to sic the Justice Department on his rivals.
One way to look at the data is that Americans already know about these extreme proposals — many of which Trump has publicly floated — and don’t care enough. But another is that they are inclined to believe that Trump would actually try to govern in these more authoritarian ways, and the trick for Democrats is to drive home how extreme a second Trump term could be once people start more earnestly sizing up Trump’s candidacy.
The extent to which Democrats can make people care could well determine who the next president is.