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Down-ballot effect unlikely from Trump conviction

Political experts don’t anticipate last week’s conviction of former President Donald Trump in New York will create significant down-ballot momentum–either way–for candidates in Florida.

Fundraising has ratcheted up after Trump’s conviction on 34 counts of falsifying business records, but experts in Florida pointed to issues such as voters already having their minds made up.

Carol Weissert, a Florida State University political-science professor emerita, said the court decision might affect some independents and younger voters. But Weissert said that might be more of a factor “in states that are still up for grabs.”

Even before the 12-member jury in New York City returned its verdict Thursday, a majority of Florida voters were already entrenched behind their candidates. Also, district lines had been crafted so that few legislative and congressional races likely will be competitive in November.

Weissert added she’d like to see polling trends before saying with confidence if the conviction will affect any races. In addition to running against Democratic President Joe Biden, Trump faces independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

“I’m also going to look at how Trump and Biden respond to the conviction,” Weissert said. “Ranting might help energize Trump’s base but probably won’t do much for NPAs (no-party affiliation voters) and wavering Republicans. I’m also going to be interested to see if Robert Kennedy benefits from the Trump trial. He might look better to Republicans who can’t vote for a felon than Biden.”

An Economist/YouGov poll released Friday morning had 10 percent of Republicans saying they would be less likely to vote for Trump because of the conviction. A CBS News/YouGov poll released Sunday showed 54 percent of independent voters thought Trump got a fair trial.

Such polls indicate Trump’s convictions could become a factor as Republicans try to hold on to supermajorities in the Florida House and Senate, University of Central Florida political-science professor Aubrey Jewett said.

Jewett, who contends the verdicts could help both parties increase turnout, added that some independents and political moderates might be more hesitant to vote for Trump with the convictions.

“If this comes to pass, then Florida Democrats may see some legislative pick-ups in districts where they actually had, have a lead in voter registration but still lost in 2022 due to abysmal turnout,” Jewett said. “This would not be enough to win control of either (chamber of the) Legislature, but might be enough to eliminate the GOP supermajority of the past two years.”

Susan MacManus, a retired political-science professor at the University of South Florida, said the court decision might “spike turnout for working-class Republicans, MAGA-types.” But she questioned how long the verdicts will be a dominant concern with the November election five months away.

“Has Jan. 6 had a lot of legs?” MacManus said, referring to the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters. “I mean they talk about it, but people are ignoring it.”

In applauding the verdict in the Trump trial, Democrats have argued that nobody’s above the law. Republicans have lambasted the verdict as a “political witch hunt” and as election interference.

The Republican Party of Florida said shortly after the verdict that “Florida will lead the way in bringing the RED wave to vindicate President Donald J. Trump once and for all.”

The Florida Democratic Party asked for $34 donations, and party Chairwoman Nikki Fried said “this verdict doesn’t change our strategy.”

MacManus questioned both parties’ tactics.

In Florida’s down-ballot contests, including proposed constitutional amendments that would allow recreational marijuana and enshrine abortion rights in the state Constitution, voters will be driven by certain personal issues, including how they feel about the direction of the country, MacManus said.

“The two parties are trying to use old tactics to try to get these younger people to the polls,” MacManus said.

“When people think of Florida, everything was contingent on old voters. But I’m starting to have a different feeling about the issue-versus-party thing,” MacManus said. “When I go speak to these party groups … the age there is striking. And they’re the ones that are controlling a lot of grassroots, get out the vote, get to spread the message, particularly on down-ballot candidates.”

MacManus said millennials and Gen Z voters are growing “more issue driven than party driven.”

News Service of Florida