How much did debate hurt Biden's re-election bid? New poll offers insight. (2024)

Republican Donald Trump has edged ahead of Democrat Joe Biden, 41% to 38%, in the aftermath of the candidates' rancorous debate last week, according to an exclusive USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll.

That narrow advantage has opened since the previous survey in May showed the two contenders tied, 37% to 37%.

The findings still signal a close contest, not a decisive lead. The difference in support and the shifts since the spring are within the polls' margins of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. The new survey of 1,000 registered voters was taken Friday through Sunday by landline and cell phone.

There was little change in the standing of third-party candidates, with independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr., at 8% and three others at about 1% each.

But other findings in the poll raised red flags for President Biden, whose campaign has been roiled by his faltering performance in the CNN debate last Thursday. In the survey, 41% of Democrats said they wanted Biden replaced at the top of the ticket.

Prep for the polls: See who is running for president and compare where they stand on key issues in our Voter Guide

"I think people are more focused on age, rather than with what the reality of our everyday could be under the two different administrations," said Shalia Murray, 57, a Democrat from Round Rock, Texas, who works in law enforcement and was called in the poll. She enthusiastically supports Biden but worries about voter apathy and a focus on "very surface issues."

"I don't believe a lot of people believe that we could actually go backwards in our rights and in our freedoms" in a Trump administration, she said.

Trump now leads as the second choice of voters: 25% of those surveyed said Trump was their second choice, compared with 17% for Biden. Thirty-three percent said their second choice was one of four third-party contenders: independent Cornel West, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, Libertarian candidate Chase Oliver and RFK Jr.

"It is still a margin of error race right now, but the Biden campaign must be concerned about the defection of second-choice votes of third-party voters," David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk Political Research Center, said. Some Democratic strategists had calculated those voters would drift back to Biden as Election Day neared.

How much did debate hurt Biden's re-election bid? New poll offers insight. (1)

"They now favor Trump instead of Biden," he said. "The Stein/West/RFK voters he may have been counting on in November have left him after Thursday's debate."

The enthusiasm gap could affect turnout

Trump voters are also much more excited about their candidate than Biden voters are about theirs. That enthusiasm gap could be critical when it comes to convincing supporters to actually cast a ballot in the fall.

"I like Trump," said Zach Anderson, 30, a maintenance technician and a Republican from South Chicago, Illinois. "The country was running just fine four or five years ago with him, and I can only see him doing a better job than he did last time because he has four years of experience."

In contrast, Steve Sutton, a political independent from Seattle who works in IT, said he is for Biden in part simply because he is against Trump.

In the debate, "Biden seems too old, and Trump can't tell the truth," he said. "So those are the two things coming out of it, and those are both, you know, right on the mark."

  • By 2 to 1, 59% to 30%, Trump voters were more likely to say they were "very excited" about voting for their candidate.
  • By 2 to 1, 37% to 16%, Biden voters were more likely to say they were "not very excited" or "not at all excited" about their candidate.

After years of sharpening political polarization, most partisans say their minds are firmly made up, including 87% of Biden voters and 89% of Trump voters. Just 10% of Biden supporters and 12% of Trump supporters say they might change their minds.

However, most of those backing third-party candidates said their minds might change, from 56% of Kennedy's backers to 80% of those supporting Stein.

Overall, 17% of those surveyed said they might change their minds.

More details:Joe Biden's core Democratic support takes big hit after debate, exclusive poll shows

For many, that would require a change in the nominees. In response to an open-ended question, 21% said "different candidates" and 16% said "a better candidate" would make them reconsider their choices.

There was skepticism about the power of the Republican national convention in July and the Democratic national convention in August to persuade. Fourteen percent said the two conventions might change their minds, and 12% said the Democratic convention might.

But a negligible 2% said the GOP convention might change their minds.

When it comes to congressional elections, 47% said they would vote for the unnamed Republican candidate in their district; 45% for the Democratic one. That edge, while small, could be encouraging for GOP hopes of retaining their narrow majority in the House of Representatives.

Trump supporters suspicious of the count

Trump's unsubstantiated allegations that the 2020 election was stolen from him have reinforced significant doubts among his supporters about whether they can trust the vote count this year.

In the poll, 44% of Trump supporters were "not confident" that the 2024 results would be accurately counted and reported, and another 45% said they were only "somewhat confident."

In contrast, 83% of Biden supporters were "very confident" in a fair count.

That said, Biden supporters were less certain they would prevail: 73% predicted a Biden victory, 12% a Trump win. Trump supporters were more bullish about November: 88% predicted Trump would win, just 4% Biden.

How much did debate hurt Biden's re-election bid? New poll offers insight. (2024)
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