Biden suffered less polling damage than expected after debate against Trump

Joe Biden has suffered less polling damage than might have been expected after his disastrous debate against Donald Trump, while Kamala Harris, the vice-president, and the president’s most likely replacement should Democrats switch candidates, had mixed results when positioned against Trump.

Those were analysts’ key takeaways from new polling nearly two weeks after the debate, as Biden continued to fend off calls to quit from within his own party, and majorities of Americans say he should drop out because of concerns over his age and health.

Mark Murray, senior political editor at NBC News, noted that the 81-year-old president was trailing Trump “within the margin of error … in many national and battleground polls before [his] debate debacle” in Atlanta on 27 June.

In that contest, a frail and confused Biden proved unable to counter Trump’s glut of invective and lies.

In polling carried out since then, Murray noted: “Biden is trailing by one to two points more in some surveys, but the movement is still within the margin of error, and few of the results reflect a radically altered race.”

That was relatively good news for the Biden campaign but there were words of caution elsewhere. Speaking to ABC News last week, Biden said experts told him “the same thing in 2020 – I can’t win, the polls show I can’t win. Before the vote, I said that’s not going to happen, we’re gonna win”.

This week, Harry Enten, a senior data reporter for CNN, took a skeptical look at that claim.

“Right now,” Enten said, “Donald Trump leads in an aggregate of national polls by about three percentage points. If you go back four years at this point, Joe Biden was ahead by nine points. This right now doesn’t look anything like what we saw four years ago at this point.

“I then decided to take it a step further. What was Biden’s worst 2020 polling position? He was ahead by four points – basically, what he ended up beating Donald Trump by in the national popular vote.

“So [the current] three-point advantage for Donald Trump is Donald Trump’s best position versus Joe Biden.”

Enten also pointed out that the last Republican to lead presidential polling at this point in an election year was George W Bush, in July 2000.

Bush beat Bill Clinton’s vice-president, Al Gore, in November. If Biden did choose to step aside, another Democratic vice-president, Harris, would be in pole position to step up.

But polling has not been kind to Harris either, and in one survey released on Tuesday she scored less well in a notional head-to-head with Trump than did Hillary Clinton, the former first lady, senator and secretary of state who lost the presidency to Trump in 2016 and is not touted as a serious option for Democrats this time.

Clinton beat Trump in the poll, from Bendixen & Amandi, a Democratic firm. Harris and Biden lost.

There was better news elsewhere for Harris, with one poll putting her ahead of Trump by a point, 42% to 41%. That was countered by Emerson College, a mainstream polling operation, putting Trump ahead of Harris by six, 49% to 43%.

Emerson also tested Trump against a range of other possible Biden replacements.

All of them – from Bernie Sanders, senator of Vermont, to Gretchen Whitmer, governor of Michigan – came off a clear second-best.

Back in the actual race, Emerson found Trump leading Biden by 46% to 43%.

Spencer Kimball, executive director of Emerson College Polling, said: “Since before the first presidential debate, former President Trump’s support remains at 46%, while President Biden’s support has decreased two percentage points.”

When third-party candidates were included, the independent Robert F Kennedy Jr attracted 6% support – a worrying sign for Biden.

Kimball had worse news for the president’s campaign about notionally persuadable voters.

“Notable shifts away from Biden occurred among independent voters, who break for Trump 42% to 38%. Last month they broke for Biden 43% to 41%.”


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