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Yahoo News/YouGov poll: No State of the Union bump for Biden

The speech earned rave reviews from pundits — but so far, Americans don't seem convinced by the president's energetic new pitch.

President Biden looks out at the audience as he delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.
President Biden pauses as he delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol on March 7. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Pundits may have fawned over President Biden’s State of the Union address last Thursday, praising it as a “homerun” performance from a “fiery, powerful, vigorous guy” that would ease nagging fears about his age and vitality.

But voters barely seem to have noticed.

A new Yahoo News/YouGov survey of 1,482 U.S. adults, conducted in the days immediately following Biden’s big speech, shows zero improvement in perceptions of the president — or in his standing against former President Donald Trump.

Before the State of the Union, Trump (45%) and Biden (44%) were statistically tied in a head-to-head 2024 matchup, according to the previous Yahoo News/YouGov poll from late January.

They remain tied today, with Trump at 46% and Biden at 44% — a gap that’s well within the poll’s margin of error (2.8%).

Before the speech, 40% of Americans approved of the job Biden was doing as president; 56% disapproved. Today, those numbers are 39% and 55%, respectively.

The age issue

Biden would be 86 years old at the end of a second term, and voters have consistently said that they worry about his advanced age and ability to handle the job for another four years.

But far from moving the needle in Biden’s favor on the age issue, his State of the Union — a widely viewed and, by most accounts, energetic display — appears to have had no effect whatsoever:

  • Just 29% of Americans now say Biden, 81, is fit to serve another term as president, unchanged from 29% in January.

  • Most Americans (51%) still say Biden’s age is a “big problem” affecting his “fitness for the presidency,” also unchanged since January.

  • Only 30% of Americans say Biden has been “mostly in charge” as president, while 53% say he’s been “mostly passive” — compared to 28% and 54%, respectively, when the question was last asked in November.

What’s holding Biden back here? It may be that the public has made up its mind about his age — or that he’ll need more than a single speech to shake things up.

Either way, last Thursday’s address wasn’t the reset the White House was hoping it would be. Just 17% of Americans who watched the State of the Union or followed news about it say Biden seemed “not as old” as they expected — while 51% say he seemed “about the same” as they expected and 24% say he seemed “older” than they expected.

Asked whether the speech made Biden seem more fit to be president or less fit to be president, just under a third of these same Americans (32%) say more fit. A slightly larger number say less fit (35%) — and most of the rest (28%) say the State of the Union did not alter their opinion of Biden’s fitness.

But what about Democrats?

Given the ever-increasing levels of polarization in U.S. politics, most of the positive reviews of Biden’s speech came from Democrats; Republicans were uniformly critical.

That raised the possibility of a polarized response in the polls as well — one that would pair a helpful boost in Democratic enthusiasm with backlash among Republicans, keeping the president’s top-line numbers right where they were before the speech.

But that’s not how Democrats reacted. In fact, they didn’t really react at all:

  • 79% of Democrats now approve of the job Biden is doing as president, versus 81% in January.

  • 81% of Democrats rate Biden favorably, unchanged since January.

  • 62% of Democrats say Biden is fit to serve another term as president, compared to 64% in January.

  • 61% of Democrats say Biden’s age is at least a small problem affecting his presidential fitness, also unchanged since January.

And even as Biden comes closer to mathematically clinching the Democratic nomination, doubts about his strength as a candidate don’t appear to be subsiding.

In January, support for Biden as the party’s 2024 nominee (62%) versus someone else (28%) jumped 11 points among potential Democratic primary voters compared to the previous month. But in the latest Yahoo News/YouGov poll, Biden’s support fell to 56% — while support for someone else rose to 35%.

Among Democrats, 65% now think Biden has the best chance of winning the general election in November, while 23% are unsure. In January, significantly more Democrats said Biden had the best chance (76%) — and significantly fewer said they weren’t sure (17%).

Still, just 26% of Democrats want Biden to “drop out of the 2024 race and ask [the party] to nominate someone else for president”; another 11% want him to consider doing so if he “is struggling in the weeks before the Democratic convention in August.”

Who followed the State of the Union — and how did they react?

More than 6 in 10 Americans say they watched at least some of Biden’s State of the Union speech (45%) or read or saw news coverage (16%) — leaving 39% who didn’t follow it at all.

Of the Americans who followed the State of the Union, 37% were Democrats and 31% were Republicans — making Biden’s audience slightly more Democratic than the country overall (33% Democrat, 28% Republican).

That said, reactions to the speech reflect an evenly divided electorate. Those who watched or followed coverage were split down the middle on approval of the speech (48% approve, 46% disapprove); agreement with what Biden said in the speech (45% mostly agree, 43% mostly disagree); and agreement with what Biden said about Trump (45% agree, 45% disagree).

Agreement with what Biden said about specific issues, meanwhile, closely matches his corresponding issue approval ratings — including on inflation (38% agree, 48% disagree); immigration (37% agree, 50% disagree); the economy (42% agree, 47% disagree); and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (33% agree, 42% disagree). This suggests, again, that the speech itself did little to change views of Biden’s presidency.

There was only one issue on which those who watched or followed the speech were more likely to agree with what Biden said (46%) than disagree (36%): abortion.

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The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,482 U.S. adults interviewed online from March 8 to 11, 2024. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to Nov. 1, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 27% Republican). Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.8%.