Initial postdebate polls show Biden losing ground to Trump

Initial postdebate polls show Biden losing ground to Trump

Polling has started to come out following last week’s presidential debate between former President Trump and President Biden, showing some indications of Trump gaining in the aftermath.

Anticipation for the debate built up in advance for both candidates, but especially for Biden, who was hoping to use the night to overcome worries that he’s not up to the job of president for four more years. Instead, he at times stumbled over his words, struggled to make clear statements on policy positions and did not present significant energy that many Democrats wanted to see.

Although Trump made numerous false statements throughout the debate — significantly more than Biden — he came off as more competent and cognizant during the night, despite the candidates’ ages being similar.

Accordingly, polling respondents have mostly said Trump was the winner of the debate, and the former president has seen a subsequent rise in the polls. But it’s still less than a week after the debate, and the change has been more modest than some might expect.

“I don’t know how anyone looks at the debate performance in some of the after-reaction about who won the debate and says, ‘Hey, this is going to be helpful to the president’s numbers.’ I think the question is, you know, how hurtful will it be?” said Scott Tranter, the director of data science at Decision Desk HQ (DDHQ).

Biden was already trailing Trump a bit heading into the debate. Although the national polling had been a bit mixed with each candidate slightly ahead at times, the former president has mostly led the incumbent by at least a few points in the roughly half-dozen key battleground states that will likely decide the election.

The debate presented an opportunity for Biden to give himself a boost and tamp down concerns about his cognitive ability to run for another term and serve as president. But the performance instead has caused worries among Democrats to reach a boiling point that Biden is not capable of defeating Trump as he did four years ago.

Democrats have a noted tendency to panic when a concerning political development occurs — but the numbers confirm at least some of their fears in the aftermath of the debate.

President Biden and former President Trump participate in the CNN Presidential Debate at the CNN Studios on June 27, 2024 in Atlanta. (Justin Sullivan, Getty Images)

A USA Today/Suffolk University poll released Tuesday showed Trump with a 3-point lead over Biden in a race that includes third-party and independent candidates, after the two were tied in the previous poll in May. A majority of respondents said Trump won the debate, and nearly a third said the debate made them more likely to vote for Trump, while only 10 percent said it made them more likely to support Biden.

Polling has also found majorities of Democratic voters wanting the party to move on from Biden in favor of another candidate who they believe would have a better shot at besting Trump. A CNN poll released Tuesday found 75 percent of registered voters said Democrats would have a better chance with a candidate other than Biden, including 56 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. The same poll also showed Vice President Harris, who has been rumored as a top possible replacement for Biden if he were to step aside, performing better against Trump than Biden. Harris was only down 2 points to Trump, without having run a presidential campaign, while Biden was down 6 points.

Perhaps even more concerning is a poll released yesterday out of a state Republicans are hoping to flip in November.

Trump led Biden by 2 points, 44 percent support to 42 percent, in a Saint Anselm College poll of New Hampshire, a state that has leaned toward Democrats in national elections for years despite often being decided by single-digit margins.

The result is a major swing from a December survey from the same pollster, where Biden led Trump by 10 points. It is just one poll, and the result is within the margin of error, but if New Hampshire is in play, that would be concerning for Democrats who would rather be able to focus on states more recently considered complete toss-ups.

“Fundamentally, structurally, it is a Democratic state,” Tranter said. “If we’ve got a poll that shifted … it is still likely that Joe Biden wins the state, but that is not a good trend. If that state is competitive, if Joe Biden only wins that state by 1 or 2 [points], that means other states like Maine, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, because these things are correlated, are probably more competitive as well.”

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At the same time, Biden’s poll numbers have not fallen off a cliff, at least so far. While Trump has gained or maintained his leads in the few polls that have come out, Biden’s support has not collapsed.

Trump’s lead held steady at 6 points in a Harvard CAPS/Harris poll released Monday, with 47 percent support to Biden’s 41 percent. Each had their share drop by 2 points compared to the last poll from May.

Trump’s lead over Biden also stayed mostly the same when pollsters asked respondents their preferences while including independents Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cornel West and Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

One explanation may be the large percentage of voters who have already made up their minds about whom to support in November with the intense political divisions in the country and Trump and Biden being such well-known figures.

The Harvard/Harris poll showed 72 percent of respondents said they already decided whom they will vote for, up 3 points from the 69 percent who said so in May.

“This electorate’s pretty solid,” Tranter said. “President Biden’s got a core base and a core base of people who will never vote for Trump, and same to Donald Trump.”

But Tranter said that means a smaller shift could still be deeply consequential for the outcome of the race. He said he would consider a 4-point shift, or more, to be “significant movement outside the margins,” adding that’s what the public should look for rather than a 10-point shift.

Still, DDHQ has not yet observed a shift in the national polling average overall since the debate based on seven polls it takes into account for its average. Trump was ahead by about 1 point both before and after the debate.

In terms of DDHQ’s calculations of each candidate’s chances to win nationwide and in the key states, only a few relatively small tweaks have been made. Maine and New Hampshire shifted 3 percentage points toward Trump, moving Maine just inside the toss-up territory and New Hampshire leaning Biden but just outside a toss-up.

Most changes, if any, are only a 1-point shift toward Trump, but a small difference could be key this year. Often even more major developments in a political race will only cause a temporary shift in polling, but time will be needed to assess any longer-term impacts of the debate.

Tranter said likely another five or six national polls will need to be released to give a better sense of the debate’s impacts, which should happen in the next week to 10 days. He said he would also like to see one or two polls of each battleground state, which may be a couple weeks away.

“Donald Trump has certainly proved you can have a bad news week and come back, and so we’ll see if Joe Biden has the same magic,” he said.

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