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Trump widens lead after Biden’s debate debacle, Times/Siena poll finds

YURI GRIPAS / NEW YORK TIMES / MAY 29
                                Donald Trump’s lead in the 2024 presidential race has widened after President Joe Biden’s fumbling debate performance last week, a new poll from The New York Times and Siena College showed. Biden is seen here during a campaign event to launch Black Voters for Biden-Harris at Girard College in Philadelphia in May.
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YURI GRIPAS / NEW YORK TIMES / MAY 29

Donald Trump’s lead in the 2024 presidential race has widened after President Joe Biden’s fumbling debate performance last week, a new poll from The New York Times and Siena College showed. Biden is seen here during a campaign event to launch Black Voters for Biden-Harris at Girard College in Philadelphia in May.

Donald Trump’s lead in the 2024 presidential race has widened after President Joe Biden’s fumbling debate performance last week, as concerns that Biden is too old to govern effectively rose to new heights among Democrats and independent voters, a new poll from The New York Times and Siena College showed.

Trump now leads Biden 49% to 43% among likely voters nationally, a 3-point swing toward the Republican from just a week earlier, before the debate. It is the largest lead Trump has recorded in a Times/Siena poll since 2015.

Trump leads by even more among registered voters, 49% to 41%.

Doubts about Biden’s age and acuity are widespread and growing. A majority of every demographic, geographic and ideological group in the poll — including Black voters and those who said they will still be voting for him — believe Biden, 81, is too old to be effective.

Overall, 74% of voters view him as too old for the job, up 5 percentage points since the debate. Concerns about Biden’s age have spiked 8 percentage points among Democrats in the week since the debate, to 59%. The share of independent voters who said they felt that way rose to 79%, nearly matching the Republican view of the president.

The poll offers early empirical evidence of what many Democrats have feared: That Biden’s faltering debate performance has further imperiled his chances against Trump this fall. Some Democratic lawmakers and donors are raising questions about Biden’s fitness following his struggles to finish his thoughts or articulate a vision during the debate, and they are demanding that Biden prove for a skeptical public that he is capable of serving until he is 86.

There were a couple of faint glimmers of good news for Biden in the poll.

One was that he narrowed Trump’s edge among independent voters, even if that gain was more than offset by his erosion among Democrats and Trump’s improvement among Republicans. Another was that the share of Democratic voters who think Biden should no longer be the nominee ticked up, but by far less than the rising Democratic concern about his age. The first calls from Capitol Hill lawmakers for him to step aside came Tuesday.

Overall, more voters thought Biden should remain the Democratic nominee — but only because more Republicans, perhaps emboldened after the debate, said they now want him as their opponent.

“If this was a boxing match, it would have been a TKO in the first round — please somebody stop this already,” George Lee, 44, a health care adviser in Brooklyn, New York, said of watching Biden suffer rhetorical punch after punch at the debate. “He doesn’t have his wits about him. That’s clear from last week. They’ve been saying it for a long time, but the world saw it.”

Lee, a Democrat, said he wished Biden would step aside but that he would still vote for him to stop Trump. He fretted, “There’s no way he’s going to win now.”

The poll also showed the depth of concern for Biden’s fitness. Half of voters go much further than thinking Biden is too old to be effective: A full 50% agree that his “age is such a problem that he is not capable of handling the job of president,” including 55% of independent voters.

Voters have some concern about Trump’s age, too, but far less than for Biden’s.

After the debate, 42% of voters view Trump as too old for the job, an increase of 3 points from a week prior that was driven heavily by Democrats. Only 19% of voters said Trump was so old he was not capable of handling the job.

One of the more interesting findings in the poll was that men accounted for virtually all of Trump’s post-debate gains.

Trump has made appeals to machismo a centerpiece of his 2024 campaign, making his first public appearance after his felony conviction related to paying hush money to a porn star a visit to a UFC fight, for instance.

In the pre-debate poll, Trump had led among likely male voters by 12 percentage points. After the debate, his lead among men ballooned to 23 points. That movement was particularly concentrated among younger men and men without college degrees.

Biden’s 5-point edge among likely women voters before the debate actually ticked up slightly, to 8 points.

Those who said they had watched the CNN debate, which was held in Atlanta, said Trump outperformed Biden, 60% to 22%.

Only 16% of voters said Biden did well, and a meager 3% said he did very well. In an era of intense partisanship, even Democrats felt that Biden had flopped.

About one-third of Democrats said Biden did well compared to 89% of Republicans who said the same of Trump.

The debate was watched live by more than 50 million Americans, and 59% of voters said they had tuned in. Only 10% said they had not heard about the debate, 15% said they had heard about it and another 16% said they had watched clips afterward.

It was that last cohort, the clip-watchers, whose view of Biden’s age problem was the most acute, perhaps because some of Biden’s most incoherent answers quickly went viral.

Around 80% of those who watched clips or heard about the debate but did not watch live thought Biden was too old. Voters who watched the debate live or did not watch at all were in the low 70 percentage range.

The Times/Siena survey before the debate had appeared more favorable to Trump than the national average of polls at the time. One explanation had been that Republicans had been more responsive than Democrats when called for that survey, perhaps a sign of enthusiasm after Trump’s conviction. A higher response rate for a particular group is not necessarily an indicator of an inaccurate result. But even so, in this new survey, response rates between the parties returned to their usual level of parity.

The Biden campaign, in an internal staff memo on Wednesday, braced aides for potential poor polling and the Times/Siena poll, in particular.

“Polls are a snapshot in time and we should all expect them to continue to fluctuate,” wrote Julie Chavez Rodriguez, the campaign manager, and Jen O’Malley Dillon, the campaign chair. They said internal metrics showed the race within the margin of error. The campaign had previously released a post-debate poll showing Biden trailing Trump, but the campaign said the margin had not changed since before the debate.

In the Times/Siena poll, when voters were asked about possible third-party and independent candidates, Trump’s lead expanded by 2 percentage points in the last week. Trump was ahead of Biden 42% to 37% after the debate when the survey included six potential candidates, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who earned 8% support. Trump had led 40% to 37% before the debate.

The 2024 race pits two nominees who are historically unpopular against each other, and the unfavorable ratings of both candidates rose slightly after the debate. Biden’s rose to 61%, and Trump’s to 55%.

The Biden campaign had hoped that the debate — and seeing Trump onstage in a way he hasn’t been seen since he occupied the White House — would pull some of the Democratic voters who have been reluctant to support Biden in 2024 back into the fold.

The poll, which like all others is a snapshot in time, did not show any Democratic consolidation.

Biden’s standing in the poll did improve among Black voters, but it eroded among Hispanic voters, although the sample size of both demographic groups was relatively small in the survey.

The poll also revealed a deep generational rift inside the Democratic Party.

When it comes to Biden’s fitness for another term, 77% of Democrats under 45 think the president is too old to be effective, while only 49% of those older than 45 agree.

Similarly, 56% of Democrats under 45 approve of Biden’s job performance, while 90% of Democrats older than that rated him positively.

The debate did succeed in another Biden goal: Getting voters to tune into the race. The share of voters paying a lot of attention to the campaign was jolted up 9 percentage points in the wake of the much-discussed debate.

More voters said in the poll that reelecting Biden in November would be a risky choice for the country than those who said it of Trump. In the survey, 63% of voters said Biden was a risky choice, compared to 56% who said Trump was risky.

Roughly 1 in 4 Democrats said Biden was a risky choice rather than a safe one; they were nearly twice as likely to think of Biden as risky as Republicans were to view Trump that way. Voters had viewed the candidates as equally risky back in April.

Biden faces other headwinds beyond his age. The economy and inflation were the top issues for voters in the Times/Siena surveys both before and after the debate, and Trump is winning voters who prioritize those issues overwhelmingly.

Also, by a wide margin, voters look back more fondly on Trump’s time in office than Biden’s. Just 34% said Biden made the country better, while 47% said the same about Trump’s tenure. And for almost every demographic group, more voters said Biden had made the country worse rather than better. Black voters were the biggest exception.

A majority of voters, 50% to 39%, said Trump would best handle whatever issue they felt was the most important one facing the country.

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Here are the key things to know about this Times/Siena poll:

>> We spoke with 1,532 registered voters, from June 28 to July 2, 2024.

>> Our polls are conducted by telephone, using live interviewers, in both English and Spanish. About 93% of respondents were contacted on a cellphone for this poll.

>> Voters are selected for the survey from a list of registered voters. The list contains information on the demographic characteristics of every registered voter, allowing us to make sure we reach the right number of voters of each party, race and region. For this poll, we placed more than 190,000 calls to more than 113,000 voters.

>> To further ensure that the results reflect the entire voting population, not just those willing to take a poll, we give more weight to respondents from demographic groups that are underrepresented among survey respondents, like people without a college degree. You can see more information about the characteristics of our respondents and the weighted sample on the methodology page, under “Composition of the Sample.”

>> The poll’s margin of sampling error among registered voters is plus or minus 2.8 percentage points. In theory, this means that the results should reflect the views of the overall population most of the time, though many other challenges create additional sources of error. When computing the difference between two values — such as a candidate’s lead in a race — the margin of error is twice as large.

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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