CBS News Poll: After Trump indictment, most see security risk, but Republicans see politics

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Republican primary voters say they're far more concerned that Donald Trump's indictment is politically motivated than his alleged conduct being a national security risk — and there's no evidence it's hurt his status as the clear front-runner for the 2024 nomination, at least not yet. He remains well ahead of rivals in both consideration and vote choice.

In fact, most Republican primary voters would not generally consider him keeping the alleged documents with nuclear systems or military plans to be a national security risk, in and of itself.

Most explicitly ruled out the charges announced in the indictment changing their views about Mr. Trump. Rather than being disqualifying in their eyes, even if he's ultimately convicted of a crime in the matter, they overwhelmingly feel he should still be able to serve as president again.

Interviewing for this survey was conducted both before and after the indictment was announced and made public, and there's no evidence that it has hurt Trump's standing in the primary contest. Respondents were recontacted after Friday's DOJ announcement and asked additional follow-up questions on the matter.

At this stage of the race, it's always important to consider what the electorate wants even more than any horse race. And on that front, despite the rhetoric from the campaign, GOP voters prioritize economics over so-called culture war issues.

They put a lot more importance on a candidate having a plan to lower inflation and lower taxes than they do on topics being discussed on the trail like, for instance, limiting the rights of transgender people and a national abortion ban (compared in the graphic below).

But this doesn't mean Trump (or perhaps those coming to his defense) is in perfect sync with the electorate either — and perhaps that could be an opening for an opponent down the line.

Most GOP primary voters do not want to hear Trump himself talk about the legal cases and investigations against him, nor about what happened in the 2020 election, though those topics have been a key part of his rallies, including in the wake of the indictment. They'd rather him talk about the present or future: his plans for the country now.

And if the nominee were someone other than Trump, they would prefer that person not talk about Trump at all, rather than show him loyalty.

But here's the needle other Republican candidates need to thread: in yet another sign of Trump's influence on the party, even if he were not the nominee, Republican voters overwhelmingly say they'd like a candidate similar to him.

Approach to governing

But that said, if Trump is talking to the most loyal "MAGA" Republicans only, there are indeed differences between them and the rest of the party in what kind of an approach they say a GOP president generally ought to take.

Relative to other Republicans, MAGA Republicans are a bit more likely to voice a more combative approach. While most would prefer a president who finds common ground with Democrats, a third would prefer investigating and punishing the opposition party, which is higher than non-MAGA identifiers.

And they're less likely to say it's important for the Republican nominee to appeal to moderate and independent voters in the election, preferring instead one who motivates the GOP base.

The GOP Race: Consideration and Vote

Trump is up nearly three to one in vote preference over Ron DeSantis, his next closest competitor, whose official entry into the race hasn't changed his standing relative to Trump. The rest of the field is currently seeing support rates in the single digits.

Trump is at least being considered by three-quarters of the primary electorate; that's always a critical measure at this early stage of a race, where voters know they have time to weigh the merits of multiple candidates, so far from the actual vote.

Respondents here were free to consider as many or as few as they liked, and most Republican voters are still considering more than one candidate.

And when we take an overall look at the field, accounting for both consideration and current vote, we see that Trump dominates when the two measures are taken together, suggesting he has an even higher ceiling, and that Ron DeSantis and other candidates still have more people considering them than voting for them, leaving open the question of whether they can convert more of them. So far, they have not.

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