Two-thirds of California voters believe former President Trump should be prosecuted if the government feels there is sufficient evidence of crimes, but far fewer believe he is likely to face charges, according to a new poll.
The Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies survey, co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times, found stark partisan divides over the investigations into the former president, with nearly 6 in 10 Republicans believing that prosecuting Trump would not be good for the country, while just 4% of Democrats feel the same.
Still, there are signs that Trump’s hold on the GOP is diminishing in California, with a small but noticeable drop in Republican voters who identify themselves as Trump supporters instead of supporters of the party.
The poll shows President Biden’s approval ratings in the state have rebounded into positive territory, powered largely by an improving performance with key Democratic voters.
“He’s shored up some of his base,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Berkeley IGS poll. “You’d have to have [these voters] with you if you’re thinking of running for another term. The demonstration he can get things done … really is helping him.”
The survey was conducted in late September after a summer of escalating legal woes for Trump. An investigation into whether he unlawfully kept presidential documents, including classified material, led to an unprecedented FBI search of his Florida estate in August. A separate federal investigation into the Jan. 6 attack and efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election has encompassed a growing number of figures in Trump’s orbit. The former president, his company and his children have also been sued by the New York attorney general, alleging vast business fraud.
Democratic voters are nearly unanimous — 91% — in believing that Trump should be prosecuted if warranted by the evidence, and nearly 70% of voters with no party preference feel the same. Just 22% of registered Republican voters think charges should be brought.
“Republicans clearly have a different view of what should be done even if they find some evidence against him,” DiCamillo said. “They are also more skeptical that this is likely to lead to anything.”
In all, a slight plurality of California voters — 49% — do not believe Trump will face legal action stemming from the investigations, while 46% think charges are likely. Among Republicans, 70% think charges are unlikely, while 6 in 10 Democrats believe at least one of the investigations will lead to prosecution. No party preference voters are more evenly split, with a slight majority expressing doubt that Trump will be charged.
“The findings suggest that while most voters support the idea of filing charges against Donald Trump, a significant number are unsure that this would be a likely outcome,” said G. Cristina Mora, co-director of IGS. “This brings up important questions about Californians’ trust in the federal government and its capacity, as well as voters’ faith in fair investigative outcomes.”
Roughly 60% of respondents believe that prosecuting Trump would lead to increased acts of political violence — a view held by strong majorities of Democrats and unaffiliated voters, but only a third of Republicans.
The survey found Republicans are more likely to prioritize their support for their party over Trump. Just 16% of Republicans say they identify themselves foremost as Trump supporters, compared with 25% in April 2021. The decline in those who back Trump over the GOP is found across the board, from the strongest conservatives to more moderate members of the party and throughout the geographical regions of the state.
“There’s a significant decline in about every subgroup we can examine,” DiCamillo said. “It does represent a weakening of Trump in terms of how the Republicans view him.”
Biden has improved his standing with California voters, with 52% approving of his job performance and 43% disapproving, up from an approval/disapproval rating evenly split at 48% in the last IGS poll in August. His stronger footing is powered by upticks among crucial Democratic constituencies, including voters of color and self-identified liberals.
The president’s improvement is especially notable among Latino voters, who gave Biden a 53% approval-39% disapproval assessment, after being split 47%-47% the month before. Biden also has majority approval among Black voters (58%) and Asian American respondents (54%), gaining with both groups since August.
Biden’s standing among voters ages 18-29 jumped 8 percentage points, with 47% approving of his performance. In the last poll, the state’s youngest voters “were much more likely to be disapproving of the president. I think it’s because they didn’t see him as very effective,” DiCamillo said. He added that Biden’s executive order to reduce student loan burdens may have helped change those views.
The state’s no party preference voters, who are typically seen as bellwethers because their views are less colored by partisanship, gave Biden a mixed grade, with his approval and disapproval ratings equally divided at 46%.
The Berkeley IGS poll was conducted online Sept. 22-27 among 8,725 California registered voters. The sample was weighted to match census and voter registration benchmarks. Because of weighting, precise estimates of the margin of error are difficult, but the results are estimated to have a margin of error of approximately 2 percentage points in either direction for the full sample. For the Republican voter sample, the margin of error is plus or minus 4 points.