At a time when trust in institutions is at an all-time low, Americans still seem to have faith in their fellow citizens serving on juries.
Nearly 60 percent of Americans say they have at least a fair amount of trust in juries, according to a new survey — higher than for any other group in the judicial system.
But that trust may soon be put to the test, as former President Donald J. Trump appears to be headed for multiple trials in the coming year.
When asked specifically about Mr. Trump’s upcoming trials, a majority of Americans — Democrats, Republicans and independents — said they did not think the courts would be able to seat impartial jurors.
And those jurors will, no doubt, face intense scrutiny, which for many is reason enough to not want to serve. In fact, a majority of Americans said they were not personally interested in serving on a jury for Mr. Trump.
The study, conducted in July by the polling firm Ipsos, focused on Americans who have served on a jury at some point in the last 10 years, providing a portrait of the type of American who serves and a rare window into the thoughts of the kinds of people who may decide Mr. Trump’s fate.
It found that jurors were far more likely than the general public to trust those in the criminal justice system, such as judges at the federal, state, and Supreme Court level, attorneys, nonlegal staff members and law enforcement.
The demographics of those who have served also differ notably from those of the general public. They are more likely to be older, wealthier and more educated. Two thirds of those who have served on a jury are over 50, compared with less than half of the general public. Former jurors skew slightly more Democratic than all Americans, and men are more likely than women to have served.
But it appeared that the elevated levels of trust in the judicial system displayed by former jurors (the survey did not ask about nonlegal groups and institutions, such as Congress) were more a result of the jurors’ experience within the system than a reflection of their differing demographics.
Jurors were 20 percentage points more likely than Americans overall to say they trusted defense attorneys, and 30 percentage points more likely to say they trusted prosecuting attorneys such as district or state attorneys.
Jurors were also more likely than members of the general public to say that they trust judges, though a partisan gap emerged when they were asked about their trust in Supreme Court justices, with Republicans expressing more trust than Democrats. That partisan divide largely did not exist among jurors, or the general public, when asked about state and federal judges.
“Having interviewed many jurors, their jury service does bring a more positive view of the system,” said Steven Adler, the former editor in chief of Reuters and legal reporter who wrote a book about the jury system, “The Jury: Trial and Error in the American Courtroom,” and worked with Ipsos on the study.
“If you’re sitting on a jury, even for a day or two, you get a window into a very serious and focused environment” Mr. Adler said. “Having that actual contact makes people, regardless of their preconceived notions, feel better about every actor in the process, all the way up to the judges.”
Even as 58 percent of Americans trusted juries, 71 percent of Americans — including a majority of Democrats and Republicans — said they were not confident the courts would be able to find jurors “willing to put aside their prior beliefs about Donald Trump and decide the case based on the evidence presented.”
And when asked about how different groups get treated by the justice system, 71 percent of Americans said current or former elected officials get special breaks, including similar shares of Democrats and Republicans. Jurors were even more likely than nonjurors to think officials get special treatment.
The only group that the public at large was more likely to think got special treatment was wealthy people.
Mr. Trump’s upcoming trials will pull jurors from the places where the cases were filed, and, depending on the location, the makeup of the jury pool could prove challenging for the former president. In the case in Georgia, potential jurors would come from left-leaning Fulton County. The federal case over the events of Jan. 6, 2021, will be held in Washington, a liberal city where the day is still remembered viscerally, and the hush money case involving Stormy Daniels will be held in Manhattan, also known for being highly Democratic in makeup. The classified documents case, however, is likely to take place in Fort Pierce, Fla., and the jury will likely be pulled from the surrounding counties, all of which Mr. Trump won in 2020.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys will surely be very careful in jury selection. In the cases, prosecutors will need a unanimous verdict to succeed; for Mr. Trump to secure a mistrial, he needs just one holdout.
Mr. Adler points out that political views are not disqualifying. “The law doesn’t say you have to know nothing about the case,” he said. “The law says that you have to be able to be fair and impartial.”
Americans were split regarding their own interest in serving on any of the Trump juries. A little over 50 percent said they were not personally interested in serving, with little difference along partisan lines.
Prior jury service did not increase Americans’ expectations that Trump could get a fair jury, but former jurors were more open to jumping into the ring themselves: Just over half said they would be interested in serving on a jury for one of his trials.