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New Post-Debate Polls Are Bad for Biden — But Not Fatal

by California Digital News

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photos: Getty Images

In the wake of Joe Biden’s shaky and geriatric debate performance in Atlanta on June 27, the reaction among political observers and Democratic elites has been dire (though the latter have typically done their freaking out in private). But it has been hard without solid post-debate polling data to determine if the damage to Biden that so many people in Washington perceive is actually evident in the electorate.

Well, the post-debate polls are finally arriving, and while there are a couple of outliers, the general indication is that Biden has slipped a couple of points against Trump in the national popular-vote contest. The New York Times polling averages (which debuted recently) showed Trump’s lead rising from one percent pre-debate to 3 percent now.

Comparing apples to apples, major credible polls show small but non-negligible slippage for Biden since the debate. CBS News–YouGov had Trump leading by a point as of June 21. Now he’s leading by two points. Yahoo News–YouGov had Biden leading by two points in early June. Now the outlet shows Trump with a two-point lead. The vast Morning Consult tracking poll had the race tied as of June 23, but then Biden up a point the day after the debate, and subsequently Trump up a point on June 30. There was one significant outlier: Reuters-Ipsos had Trump leading by two points in mid-June, but the race tied as of July 2.

The data we’ve covered so far gave Team Biden plenty of grounds for concluding that elite horror at the president’s debate was an overreaction, and that the close Trump-Biden contest had not fundamentally changed. But then two highly influential polls dropped that changed perceptions of the state of play. On July 2, CNN-SSRS released a national survey showing Trump leading Biden by six points in both a head-to-head (49 percent to 43 percent) and a multi-candidate (41 percent to 35 percent) contest among registered voters as of June 30. That’s pretty bad, but then again, this pollster had long been a bit of an outlier; back in April, CNN-SSRS had Trump up by the same six points in the head-to-head race and by an even larger eight points in the multi-candidate contest. Then, on July 3, the Big Bertha of polls when it comes to elite opinion, the ultra-gold-standard New York Times–Siena survey, also showed Trump leading by nine points among registered voters, and by six points among likely voters.

As with the CNN poll, the Times-Siena survey has long shown Trump leading Biden. But there’s post-debate slippage. In June, the pollster showed Trump leading by six points among registered voters and four points among likely voters. The erosion of Biden’s support is not all that dramatic, but Trump’s lead (if it’s accurate) is getting into an area associated not only with victory in all the seven battleground states, but with an expansion of the battleground map into states everyone assumed Biden would win handily (e.g., Minnesota, Virginia, and New Hampshire).

Post-debate state polling has been rare but isn’t great for the president. The new CBS News–YouGov survey showed Trump reversing a one-point Biden lead in the battleground states collectively and taking a two-point lead. A post-debate St. Anselm poll from New Hampshire, not usually considered a battleground state (though it was very close in 2016), showed Trump holding a two-point lead. If that’s accurate, it’s bad news for Biden.

Horse-race polls aside, polling internals are serving up the very worst news for Biden, particularly in terms of perceptions that the incumbent is too old. Forbes reports some of the post-debate findings:

Only one in five respondents in an Ipsos poll of over 2,500 likely voters taken after the debate called Biden’s mental fitness “good” or “excellent,” a seven-point drop from another Ipsos poll conducted just days before the debate.

Among likely Democratic voters, the drop was even more severe, with 42% saying after the debate they believe Biden is mentally fit, compared to 56% beforehand….

Another 60% of respondents in a Morning Consult poll conducted one day after the debate said Biden should “probably” or “definitely” be replaced with another Democratic candidate in the November election—including 47% of Democratic voters.

Among Morning Consult respondents who watched the debate, 78% said Biden is too old, an increase from a Morning Consult poll released just days before the debate, when 64% of all voters said the same (45% of voters said Trump is too old after the debate, a slight increase from the 42% who said the same before the debate).

One comparative data point to watch has also taken a bad turn for Biden post-debate: According to a Data for Progress survey, by a 53 percent to 42 percent margin, likely voters are more worried about Biden’s “age and mental and physical health” than about Trump’s “criminal charges and threats to democracy.” Among independents, the margin is 55 percent to 36 percent, and even among Democrats, 21 percent have more concerns about Biden.

The two big questions wavering Democrats have to face right now is whether the poll numbers for Biden will deteriorate as secondary coverage of the president’s debate performance and overall fitness continues to spread, and whether they must now fear additional incidents that will reinforce the bad impressions. The answer to the second question is almost certainly “yes,” and that matters a lot.

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