GW Politics Poll Reveals Challenges Facing Biden Even Before the First Debate

July 10, 2024

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WASHINGTON (July 10, 2024) – A new George Washington University Politics Poll reveals that before the first presidential debate, President Joe Biden was already facing significant concerns from voters about his leadership, fitness for office, and ability to handle the country's major issues. These views helped make Biden more vulnerable after his much-criticized debate performance and underscore the challenges he faces in his campaign against Donald Trump.

The poll, conducted by GW researchers in partnership with YouGov, found the candidates in a statistical dead heat, with 44% of respondents saying they would vote for Biden and 42% saying they would vote for Trump. But Trump’s supporters appeared significantly more motivated. Among those planning to vote for Trump, 60% reported being "very enthusiastic" about their support, compared to only 43% of Biden supporters. Given the lower levels of enthusiasm for Biden and lessened confidence in his capabilities even from his supporters, his poor performance in the debate had greater potential to hurt his standing, according to the researchers.

Additional key results from the poll include:

  • Emotional Response: Positive emotional responses were more pronounced among Trump supporters, with 62% saying that something about Trump or the things he has done made them feel proud always or most of the time, and 73% saying Trump made them feel hopeful always or most of the time. In comparison, 55% of Biden supporters felt proud and 63% felt hopeful always or most of the time as a result of something about Biden or something he has done.

Perceived Capabilities:

  • Leadership: 93% of Republicans believe Trump provides strong leadership, versus 75% of Democrats who say the same about Biden.
  • Physical Health: 92% of Republicans think Trump is in good enough physical health to serve effectively, compared to 64% of Democrats regarding Biden.
  • Mental Acuity: 90% of Republicans believe Trump has the mental soundness to serve effectively, while 72% of Democrats think the same about Biden.

Issue Confidence:

  • Economy: 94% of Republicans are confident in Trump’s ability to handle the economy, versus 77% of Democrats who say the same about Biden.
  • Immigration: 93% of Republicans have confidence in Trump on immigration, compared to 66% of Democrats for Biden.
  • Crime: 91% of Republicans trust Trump on crime issues, while 73% of Democrats trust Biden.
  • Israel-Hamas War: 86% of Republicans are confident in Trump’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war, versus 55% of Democrats for Biden.
  • War in Ukraine: 86% of Republicans are confident in Trump’s handling of the war in Ukraine, compared to 72% of Democrats for Biden.

“Even though our pre-debate poll had Biden and Trump virtually tied, it showed how Biden's supporters were less enthusiastic about Biden and less confident about his abilities,” said GW researcher and professor of political science Danny Hayes. “Lower support for Biden on these measures left him open to losing support after the first debate.” 

In addition to Hayes, Kimberly Gross, associate professor of media and public affairs, and Todd Belt, professor and director of the GW Graduate School of Political Management, worked on the politics poll.

The full poll and additional findings can be accessed here.


About the Poll

The GW Politics Poll is managed jointly by GW's School of Media and Public Affairs, Graduate School of Political Management and Department of Political Science. The poll was conducted by YouGov. It was in the field June 11-24, 2024. It interviewed 2750 registered voters and is weighted to approximate a nationally representative sample.