AJC poll: Georgia Republicans say politics behind Fulton charges

Georgia Republican voters overwhelmingly believe the charges filed against Donald Trump in Fulton County this month are politically motivated, a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution survey found.

But about half of Republicans surveyed say the charges against him are serious, the survey found. And a sizable minority are concerned the charges could make him a weaker candidate in a rematch against Democratic President Joe Biden.

Those are some of the findings of the AJC survey that comes as Trump and 18 other defendants face charges stemming from an alleged illegal scheme to overturn the 2020 election. A Fulton County grand jury issued the indictment Aug. 14.

The University of Georgia conducted the survey of 807 likely Georgia Republican primary voters Aug. 16-23 — after the indictment but before Trump surrendered to county authorities Thursday.

The Fulton County indictment is the latest development in an extraordinary year for Trump and the country. The former president has been charged in four separate cases — two of them stemming from his efforts to remain in power despite losing the election.

The Fulton indictment describes an alleged scheme in which Trump used false tales of voting fraud to pressure state officials and legislators to overturn Biden’s victory. Ultimately, Trump sought to have Vice President Mike Pence reverse the election’s outcome when Congress met to certify Biden’s victory on Jan. 6, 2021.

About 49% of Republican voters surveyed said the Fulton charges against Trump are very serious or somewhat serious. But a whopping 94% said they think politics played a role in District Attorney Fani Willis’ decision to indict him and the other defendants.

“I can see if she wanted to bring limited charges against Trump,” Cherokee County resident Joe Lawhon said. “But to bring in the whole crowd and to make it a three-ring circus?”

Mark Taylor of Ben Hill County supports Trump for president and said the charges do not concern him.

“I feel like he’s going to make Georgia look like a bunch of idiots,” Taylor said. “He’ll make a complete circus out of what they’re trying to do.”

Among the survey’s other findings:

  • About 61% of likely Republican voters said they believe there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, despite the fact that numerous investigations have not substantiated such claims. That’s in keeping with previous survey results.
  • About 32% of respondents said Trump behaved appropriately by calling Georgia officials to ask them to change the election outcome. About 41% said he did not behave appropriately.
  • About 36% of Republicans surveyed are very concerned or somewhat concerned that the criminal indictments make Trump a weaker candidate against Biden.
  • About 71% of respondents said they had already made up their minds about whether Trump is guilty of the events of Jan. 6.
  • About 41% of respondents said that, all things being equal, they would vote for a candidate who has been convicted of a felony crime by a jury.
  • Only about 11% of Republicans surveyed said they’re confident the U.S. Justice Department is conducting its investigation of Hunter Biden — the president’s son — in a fair and nonpartisan manner. The younger Biden appeared ready to plead guilty to tax evasion and gun charges, but a plea deal collapsed last month. Now the Justice Department has appointed a special counsel to investigate the younger Biden.

Some of the respondents said the indictments appeared to be timed to thwart Trump’s latest presidential bid.

“Here we are 2 1/2 years in on Biden’s term and just now they’re bringing charges?” Coweta County resident Mary Beth Hile said. ”The timing of it is very suspicious.”

Darlene Turner of Dalton said she thinks “it’s all phony from Biden’s administration to try to get him not to run.”

“If Trump would tell him, ‘I’ll cut off the election and not run,’ they’d probably drop the charges,” Turner said. “They’re just trying to get him not to run.”

The Justice Department’s handling of the Hunter Biden investigation also prompted suspicion. Cherokee County resident Larry Fitzpatrick believes the department is treating Trump far more harshly than it is the president’s son.

“If it was my son or your son and we were president, they’d freaking crucify us and our children,” Fitzpatrick said. “This is all a cover-up. Everybody I know says the same thing.”

“If he had been, for example, Donald Trump’s son, the results would have been far different,” Lawhon said.

The poll results confirm that many Republicans are willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his post-election behavior. Misty White of Rome doesn’t hold it against him.

“Look, he tried to overturn the election. But he was doing what he felt was right,” White said. “Was it right to call someone to tell them to ‘find’ enough votes to overturn his defeat? No. But he was fighting for what he believed in. He was fighting for himself, so I can’t blame someone for doing that.”

But there are signs Trump could lose some of that support, depending on the outcome of the charges against him. About 37% of respondents said they would not vote for a candidate who had been convicted of a felony crime by a jury.

Some Georgia Republicans are not happy with the way Trump behaved after the election. Dawson County resident Julie Upton does not believe politics played a role in his indictment.

“I think what he did was just simply wrong,” Upton said. “I don’t think he has a leg to stand on.”