New Poll: How Much Did the Debate Hurt President Biden’s Bid for Re-Election? 

According to a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll, GOP presumptive candidate Donald Trump has edged ahead of Democrat Joe Biden, 41% to 38%, in the aftermath of last week’s rancorous debate.

That narrow advantage has opened since the prior survey in May showed the candidates tied, 37% to 37%.

The findings signal a close contest but not a decisive lead. The shifts in support 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 conducted by cell phone and landline from Friday through Sunday.

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

However, additional findings in the poll raised red flags for President Joe Biden, whose campaign has been roiled by his shaky performance in the CNN debate last Thursday. In the survey, 41% of Dems said they wanted the president replaced at the top of the ticket.

“I think people are more focused on age rather than with what the reality of our everyday life could be under the two different administrations,” said Democrat voter Shalia Murray of Texas, who works in law enforcement and was called in the poll. She supports Biden enthusiastically 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 backward in our rights and in our freedoms,” in a Trump administration, said Murray.

“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,” said director of the Suffolk Political Research Center, David Paleologos. Some Democratic strategists had calculated the voters would drift back to Joe Biden as Election Day approaches.

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

Enthusiasm gap could affect voter turnout

Trump voters are additionally much more enthusiastic about their candidate than Biden voters are about theirs. That gap could be crucial when convincing supporters to cast a ballot in the fall.

“I like Trump,” said Zach Anderson, Republican and maintenance technician 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.”

•           By 2 to 1, 37% to 16%, voters for Biden were more likely to say they are “not at all excited” or “not very excited” about their candidate. 

•           By 2 to 1, 59% to 30%, Trump voters were likelier to say they were “very excited” about voting for their candidate.

Most partisan voters say their minds are made up

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

However, the majority of those backing third-party candidates, from 56% of Kennedy backers to 80% of those supporting Stein, said their minds could change.

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

For many of those polled, a change in nominees would be required. Responding to an open-ended question, 21% said “different candidates,” and 16% said “a better candidate” would make them reconsider their choices.

They were skeptical about the power of the GOP national convention in July and the Democratic national convention in August to persuade. Fourteen percent said the two conventions could change their minds, with 12% saying the Democrat convention might.

However, a negligible 2% said the Republican convention could change their minds.

Regarding congressional elections, 47% said they would vote for the unnamed GOP candidate in their district, 45% for the Democrat one. While that edge is slight, it is an encouraging sign for Republican hopes of retaining their slim majority in the House of Representatives.

Supporters of Trump suspicious of the vote count

Trump’s allegations that the 2020 election was stolen may have reinforced significant doubts among supporters about whether or not 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 then reported, and an additional 45% said they were only “somewhat confident.”

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

With that said, Biden supporters were less sure they would be victorious: 73% predicted a victory for Joe Biden, with 12% predicting a Trump win. Trump supporters were far more bullish about November: 88% predicted Trump would win, with only 4% saying Biden would.