Last week, Swift forecasters got together to discuss Donald Trump's chances of securing the Republican nomination, and how the legal cases against him might change their outlook.
We're sharing our forecasters' views here. All quotes come from them, and more of their reasoning can be found when you hover over the interactive graphics embedded into this article (and also on this standalone webpage).
As well as the overall chances that Trump wins the Republican nomination, we also forecasted whether the following will happen before the Republican nominee is selected:
- Will Trump be convicted of a felony?
- Will Trump be charged by the Fulton County District Attorney?
- Will there be a ruling in E. Jean Carroll's favour?
- Will the Deparment of Justice charge Trump over January 6?
Along with each of those, we provide forecasts on what we think Trump's nomination chances become if they do happen.
Finally, if Trump isn't on the Republican ticket, will he run as an independent? We forecast the chances of this at the end of this article.
On April 4, an indictment against the former President was unsealed. Its 34 felony charges relate to falsifying business records, all connected to a $130,000 hush-money payment to ex-porn actress Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. They allege that Trump concealed criminal conduct and hid damaging information from the public during his presidential campaign.
Our seasoned forecasters suspect that this first legal case may actually help Trump more than it hinders him, with one saying the following:
I think Trump's legal problems only help him with the Republican primary voters, who will perceive it as further evidence of him being persecuted by the deep state. Indeed, on the betting markets ... his implied chances have been more or less monotonically increasing since December.
In polling for the nomination he seems to consistently get above 40% in the last few months, and the most recent poll has him at 58% (his highest since October).
In support of the American public’s reaction, one forecaster jokingly claimed that their reaction is correct as, indeed, "the deep state is persecuting him". Another, less derisive forecaster points out that the hush money payments haven’t "actually been that big of a thing in the US ... even anti-Trump people don’t hate him for that stuff".
However, as things stand, forecasters put only 53% on Trump securing the Republican nomination for the 2024 United States presidential election. When looking ahead at Trump's future legal problems, forecasters can see how his re-nomination chances may fade.
Effect of felony conviction
The 34 felony charges Trump currently faces have been in the making since 2018, which helps explain why this was the first indictment to come in. A trial is scheduled for January 24 and, as one of our forecasters pointed out, Trump could be sentenced for over 100 years on these charges:
The case is a lot more than Trump just paying a woman to stay quiet. If he is found guilty on all charges, the maximum prison sentence is 136 years (4 years per charge). Based on his age and no prior criminal convictions, he would be unlikely to serve much time. Considering the requirement that he is guarded by the Secret Service, I doubt he would get anything beyond home confinement.
On a call, forecasters laughed off the idea of Trump being given such a long prison sentence. This is in part because there is reason to believe this case is not a strong one; federal prosecutors conducted a separate investigation into these matters themselves and decided not to press charges.
However, Trump may be convicted of felonies that he has not yet been charged with. There are a few imminent indictments that forecasters accounted for, which they unanimously regard as more consequential than the Stormy Daniels charges. There are many moving parts here, and it is not clear when these cases will conclude:
Trump is facing several potential felony trials, including the NY hush money cover up indictment, and from the Jan. 6th insurrection, Fulton County Georgia election interference, and classified documents/obstruction investigations. It appears that the Fulton County case will be ready for an indictment decision within the next month and a half. The Jan. 6th and the classified documents/obstruction investigations appear to be coming to an end, but could still take anywhere from weeks to several months. Trump will seek every possible method to delay any trials, but the courts have become increasingly resistant to these ploys. The Republican Convention is scheduled for July 15-18 .
Another forecaster highlighted that the other upcoming cases are more complicated or more recent (or both) than the Stormy Daniels charges, with the January 6 Committee only recently making a criminal referral to the Department of Justice. On the other hand, the two other important investigations — into his handling of government documents and his potential election interference in Georgia — were considered by forecasters to be backed by "quite solid" evidence. Several looked into how long we should expect these legal cases to take:
From what I could find, a felony trial isn't supposed to go on for over 6 months, but: there have been many trials that have; these are big cases; and Trump seems to have competent lawyers.
All things considered, the group put a 33% chance of Trump being convicted of a felony before the Republican National Convention. The remaining question is: how would a conviction affect his chances?
Even if Trump is convicted of a felony, it probably won't happen before most states have voted in the primaries. If he is convicted, there will probably be some pressure on the Republican leadership to block him from receiving the nomination.
Some will see it as an opportunity to finally remove him. But I'm skeptical Republican leaders would actually be able to prevent him from being the nominee once he has already won the primaries; the business fraud charges probably wouldn't even reduce his popularity.
Another forecaster is skeptical that any case will reduce his popularity. "If you support Trump, what’s going to convince you that he’s unfit?"
His opponents, perhaps. They are going to try to convince voters in the primaries that they are the safer and more competent option. In response to the indictment, Ron DeSantis said “I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair. I just, I can’t speak to that”. Yet, it's worth asking:
When has there ever been a presidential entry that has been more known than Trump? Normally, at this point, someone leads in the polls and then evaporates. What’s going to change their mind this time? How is this support base going to disappear?
Additionally, there's more to consider than just his popularity; there are pragmatic concerns about his ability to run the country as a convcited felon:
If Trump is convicted of a felony, as long as it is not insurrection or treason, I believe technically he still has the right to be President. He will attempt to appeal any conviction, but there is no guarantee that he will prevail.
His most loyal base with stick with him, but I doubt the vast majority of Republicans, including the major donors and power players, will stick with him through a felony conviction.
There is also likely to be a scenario where he doesn't spend time in a physical jail due to the complexities of Secret Service security, but a deal is made where he has some form of house arrest and fades the political scene.
Even in jail, inmates can communicate with the outside world, but running the US government is not a likely option. How can one turn house arrest into a place to run the country?
Fulton County charges
On January 2, 2021, Donald Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to change the state's 2020 presidential election results, potentially violating state and federal laws.
The proof is so easy for this one (he's recorded multiple times saying 'get me the votes').
An indictment against former President Donald Trump appears imminent in Fulton County, Georgia, as a special grand jury completed its work in January, recommending over a dozen people for indictment. Emily Kohrs, the forewoman of the special grand jury, strongly hinted in a New York Times interview that Trump was among those named.
A new grand jury will begin work in the second week of May (1 month from now). This is usually a very quick process requiring just a few days until a possible indictment.
Due to the complexity of the case, the possibility of it becoming a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) issue, as well as the propensity for Trump's lawyers to stall, it may take longer, but not months.
The evidence should be overwhelming in this case, including the recorded phone call of Trump telling Secretary of State Raffensperger (head of Georgia elections) "I just want to find 11,780 votes" and followed by threats to Raffensperger.
When asked if a Fulton County indictment changes their outlook on Trump's chances, the aggregate forecast does not change much, since forecasters already consider the indictment very likely. However, most forecasters do expect it would harm him rather than help him (in contrast with their views on the Manhattan indictment), particularly if he is convicted:
This is a much more serious crime, in my opinion, than the Stormy Daniels one, and I could see this case hurting Trump's chances at the nomination quite a bit. It would be hard for the Republican party to end up giving Trump the nomination if he is convicted of trying to steal an election.
E. Jean Carroll case
A ruling in favour of E. Jean Carroll would be embarrassing for Trump and will be perceived by many as evidence that he raped her, but without physical proof, many will view this as just another witch hunt motivated either by partisan leanings or financial gain.
While he was in office, writer E. Jean Carroll accused Donald Trump of sexually assaulting her in the winter of 1995–96. Trump responded by saying that he had never met Carroll, and claimed she had a political agenda and was cynically trying to promote sales of her book. For this, in November 2019, Carroll sued Trump for defamation, later expanding her claim to include battery and filed a second lawsuit. While the battery trial is scheduled for April 25, the initial defamation trial has been postponed indefinitely (pending appeal).
Because the alleged crime occurred long enough ago, legal proceedings may no longer be initiated for it. However, New York's Adult Survivors Act allows victims of sexual assault to file civil lawsuits even if the corresponding statutes of limitations have expired. Since this is a civil case, rather than a criminal one, Trump cannot be convicted of a crime. To be ruled in Carroll's favour, they must demonstrate that there is a greater than 50% chance that the evidence supports their version of events.
One forecaster emphasises how such a ruling would be "intense" and cause many to question his character. Others saw it as less consequential. In their rationales, three forecasters said the American public wouldn't be learning anything new, citing the Access Hollywood tape where Trump was recorded saying "I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. ... Grab 'em by the pussy. You can do anything."
If you still support Trump today, how is this case going to convince you that he’s worse than you thought?
Does it sound plausible to you? It doesn’t to me.
A ruling in favour of Carroll would only slightly reduce Trump's chances of getting the Republican nomination, from 53% to 48%, according to the aggregate of our group's forecasts. Such a ruling before the Republican National Convention looks improbable, with the group giving it a 43% chance. One forecaster explains why:
These are very serious allegations without clear physical evidence to help demonstrate guilt, so I'm unsure if a jury will resolve the case in Carroll's favor, and it could still be settled out of court at any time before then.
Hover over the interactive graphics for more forecaster reasoning.
January 6 charges
There are two major federal investigations that may lead to further charges against Trump. While forecasters think the evidence of Donald Trump's mishandling of government documents is stronger, they regard cases over the January 6 Capitol attack to be more consequential.
What does the Constitution say about insurrection? Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits anyone who has previously taken an oath of office (Senators, Representatives, and other public officials) from holding public office if they have "engaged in insurrection or rebellion" against the United States.
A January 6 charge probably won't affect Trump's support among his most ardent followers, but it would sharply reduce Trump's chances of winning a general election, and even threaten to disqualify him from running altogether. I think it would strongly increase resistance to his candidacy among many Republicans, although it's not clear to me whether it would have enough of an effect to keep him from being nominated.
Forecasters seriously think this might stop him. But is it likely?
Former VP Pence has agreed to testifying the investigation headed by Special Counsel Jack Smith. His testimony is expected in the coming weeks. He should be one of the last people to testify, though his testimony may warrant bringing back other witnesses if there's new information or if his testimony contradicts statements from previous witnesses. There are still 15 months until the Republican Convention. Once the Special Counsel decides whether or not charges should be brought, he will show them to Attorney General Merrick Garland. Unless there is some extreme overreach by Smith, AG Garland is supposed to follow his advice. This will be a complex case, but the investigation has been going on for nearly three years. Special Counsel Smith is experienced with complex and high profile cases.
The group assigns 62% to a January 6 charge coming in prior to the Republican National Convention.
If he's the nominee or not, will there be a serious independent candidate in 2024?
During our forecasting discussions, it became apparent that independent or third party candidates may play a significant role in the 2024 election.
The first question that comes to mind is whether Trump decides to run as an independent if he doesn't secure the Republican nomination. But, despite the limited discussion of this possibility in the media, forecasters had a lot to say about the likelihood of other candidates garnering momentum outside of the two political parties: celebrities, moderates, Yang, etc. Would a moderate Republican challenge Trump? Some think so, but most expect moderate voters would opt for the lower-risk option of backing Biden.
So, as well as thinking about what might affect Trump's nomination prospects, we also considered how his nomination (or lack of) affects the chances of an independent or third-party candidate winning 5% of the popular vote in 2024.
Will there be a serious independent contender in 2024, even if Trump is nominated? 14%
Since WWII, only 4 elections have passed this bar:
4 out of 19 (~21%) independent/third party candidates seem to have got more than 5% of the popular vote in the Presidential elections since the Second World War.
Forecasters think that a base-rate of 21% isn't applicable to current-day politics: "past elections where third-party candidates got at least 5% of the vote were nowhere nearly as polarized as things have been since 2016". Yet, they still think the chances are quite high, even if it's not Trump as the independent, with one putting as much as 37% on this possibility:
There is a movement to run an independent if it looks like Trump is likely to get the nomination, to destroy his chances of winning the presidency. There is also apprehension among Democrats about voting for President Biden, regardless of his record or likability, due to his advanced age. I think it is highly unlikely that there will be a significant independent candidate in order to avoid four more years of Biden, if the Republicans nominate a person who is even remotely moderate. 5% is a pretty high bar historically, but Trump is so polarising. There is a 'No Labels' third party plan that allegedly already has at least $70 million dollars. It is a 'Never Trump' group that also doesn't want four more years of President Biden.
Additionally, "the new 'Forward Party' might float a candidate (Andrew Yang, perhaps?)". Of course, capturing 5% of the popular vote is a high bar, but 2024 looks like it will be a fairly unique race:
Gary Johnson could not pass this threshold in 2016 despite Clinton and Trump being fairly unpopular candidates. Most Democratic and Republican-leaning voters will likely think the stakes are too high to risk voting for a third party or independent candidate. That said, it's not often that you get a rematch, and a Biden-Trump rematch might turn enough people off that the chance of an independent/third party candidate getting more than 5% of the popular vote likely exceeds the base rate on this occasion.
Most doubted third-party groups will gain significant traction, likening the new outfits to the 'radical centrist' parties that launched and failed in the UK post-Brexit. The group as a whole assigns a 14% chance of an independent getting that portion of the votes in 2014.
Will Trump run as an independent if he's not nominated? <35%
Forecasters saw lots of reasons why Trump may run as an independent if he doesn’t secure the Republican nomination: ignorance (that he would inevitably lose), “to take revenge”, and to maintain that the court cases against him are politically motivated. If he does realise how greatly the odds are stacked against him, they expect Trump’s ego would prevent him from committing himself to a guaranteed loss. One of our forecasters lays out the factors they think are key:
If Trump is not the nominee, it is unlikely that he will run as an independent. First, it would be difficult for him to get on all of the states' ballots if he decided too late. Second, he would have almost no chance of winning the Presidency and would look like a big loser, something his ego doesn't deal well with. He may want to sink the Republican Party for not choosing him, and would want to continue fundraising and complicating his court battles with election privileges, but not at the cost of being made a total fool.
One forecaster believes “he probably does not have the liquid assets to really finance a run by himself and is unlikely to attract a sufficient number of donors”, while others “don't think the money they raise is really that relevant — Bloomberg should be the most prominent example here”.
If he doesn’t get the Republican nomination, the group puts 35% on Trump running as an independent and gaining 5% of the popular vote. However, the consensus view was summarised best by a forecaster who places just 22% on such an outcome:
I think it's almost a foregone conclusion that if Trump is on the ballot nationally as an independent candidate, he'll get more than 5% of the vote, almost regardless of whatever else happens between now and then.
I think it's also almost a certainty that he will try to sabotage the candidacy of whoever Republicans do nominate. I'm not at all convinced that he won't run as a third party candidate because he knows he will lose.
I'm not sure Trump ever really knows anything, but in any case when he inevitably loses he will simply claim he was robbed and trade on that grievance.
I don't think he would have any problems raising money off a defeat in the primaries, but it's not clear that with sore loser laws he would be able to get on the ballot in enough states to be competitive or — depending on his legal situation — even be allowed to run.
Looking forward: expect a Fulton County indictment to be announced soon, but know that any charges relating to January 6 charges could be far more consequential for the former President's renomination chances.
Considering all of these factors and more, the forecasters assign a 53% chance to Trump securing the nomination, with their summary views contained within this graphic (click here for the standalone version):