Jim Zeigler: Gauging how the Trump guilty verdict affects presidential election

By Jim ‘Zig’ Zeigler, former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor.

Columnist Jim ‘Zig’ Zeigler
The outcome of the presidential election likely hinges on seven purple states (LEFT) President Joe Biden won in 2020—but he trails (RIGHT) former President Donald Trump in all of them, according to RealClearPolitics’ polling averages, with less than six months before the November general election. The seven states are Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Immediately after news outlets announced that the New York jury had found former President Donald Trump guilty on all 34 counts alleged, reporters began asking how the verdict might affect the November 5 presidential election.

Most reporters and guests addressing the question glossed over, or missed entirely, a caveat.

The presidential election is not a national vote with the high vote total winning. There are, instead, 50 individual contests in 50 states. The winner in each state, with a couple of outlier exceptions, takes the entire electoral vote in that state.

The president is elected by the electoral college, assuming one candidate can amass a majority of electors. If no majority, the election is thrown into the U.S. House of Representatives.

We can shortly expect that some polling firm (sponsored by some entity) will come out with the first national poll after the verdict. I expect news reports may incorrectly state or imply that the poll indicates how the verdict is affecting the election.

That methodology is flawed. I don’t expect the news outlets to mention the fact of that flaw.

The real question about the effect of the verdict on the election is much more complex. It basically boils down to how the verdict affects voters in each swing state.

States that are not swing states are so strongly for Trump (think, Alabama) or for Biden (think, California) that no development is expected to change the high vote-getter in that state. Thus, Red states appear safely for Trump and blue states appear safely for Biden.

No amount of campaigning or advertising in the blue and red states will likely make a difference. Nor will the New York jury verdict.

So, the election will be decided in the swing states. That fact has not changed.

A more sophisticated poll may be done, but it takes longer. The more relevant poll would survey each of the swing states, determine the new Trump v. Biden v. Kennedy (where on the ballot) totals in each swing state, then add up the electoral college totals of each statewide leader based on the new, post-verdict polls.

What is the post-verdict standing in Wisconsin?

What is the post-verdict standing in Michigan?

What is the post-verdict standing in Iowa?

What is the post-verdict standing in each of the other swing states?

After the polls of the swing states are done, a comparison could be made to the swing state standings of the candidates before the verdict.

Will that poll likely be done? Yes. 

Even then, a poll of the states is only a snapshot of the standings at that time. There are five months left until the November 5 election. Five months is an eternity in presidential politics.

What effect will the July 11 sentencing and appeals have? What impact will possible attempts at an expedited appeal have? What effect will the other legal cases involving Donald Trump have? What effect will continuing missteps by the Biden administration have?

While polls make good news copy and generate website clicks, they are of limited value. Think President Harry Truman — behind in all polls, victorious on election day. Think Hillary Clinton — ahead in all polls, a loser on election day.