Air Date: 09/30/2020
Democrat draws support of 53% of registered voters, as GOP incumbent’s backing falls to 39%, new Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey finds
Half of survey respondents said Joe Biden did best in last week’s debate, with a quarter saying President Trump did better.
President Trump is drawing his weakest voter support of the year in his re-election race following Tuesday’s contentious debate with former Vice President Joe Biden, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds.
Mr. Biden, the Democratic nominee, leads the president, 53% to 39%, among registered voters in the new poll, which was conducted in the two days following the debate but before news emerged that Mr. Trump had tested positive for Covid-19. Mr. Biden’s 14-point lead compares with an 8-point advantage last month and 11 points in July, which was his largest of the campaign at that time.
The survey finds something rare in Journal/NBC News polling: evidence that an individual news event—the debate—is having a material effect on Mr. Trump’s political standing, at least for now. Significant events in the past, such as Mr. Trump’s impeachment by the House and acquittal by the Senate, had only hardened views of the president, not shifted them.
Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster who directed the survey with Democrat Jeff Horwitt, cautioned that the poll was conducted during an unsettled moment after the caustic presidential debate—“a shock to the system,” he called it—and could reflect a temporary reassessment of views. “The public can be taking a moment to say, ‘What did I just see, and how do I feel about it?’” he said. Mr. Trump could regain ground, Mr. McInturff said, given that “he has a history of bouncing back to some set point.”
For now, though, the poll represents a number of flashing caution signs for the president. His support has never before fallen below 40% on the ballot against Mr. Biden. Women, who outnumber men in the electorate, favor Mr. Biden in the survey by 27 percentage points, 60% to 33%, compared with 20 points last month. At the same time, support for Mr. Trump has softened among some of his most loyal groups, such as white, working-class men.
Negative views of the president dominate positive ones by 16 percentage points in the new survey, up from 11 points last month, and the share of voters with “very negative” views has hit 50% for the first time since Mr. Trump took office. Meanwhile, views of Mr. Biden turned net positive for the first time since 2018, though narrowly so.
Messrs. Horwitt and McInturff said one factor was the debate, a decorum-destroying event in which the two candidates traded insults and continually talked over each other, with Mr. Trump interrupting his opponent more often. About three-quarters of voters said the event made no difference to their vote. But among the other 25%, a bigger share said the debate made them more likely to support Mr. Biden than Mr. Trump.
While 84% of Democrats said Mr. Biden did a better job in the debate, 54% of Republicans said so of the president. Overall, half of voters said Mr. Biden performed better, with a quarter saying Mr. Trump did. Some 17% said neither candidate did well.
Asked more broadly about the candidates’ personal qualities, voters by a two-to-one margin said Mr. Biden was better at displaying “the right temperament to be president,” 58% to 26%.
“It is clear that the debate, and Mr. Trump’s behavior during it, reinforced the negative side of Mr. Trump personally for many respondents,” said Mr. Horwitt. He said the president “lost the American people on style more than substance.”
“What we know for sure is that the debate had consequence, at least initially,” said Mr. McInturff, who noted that big events have tumbled over each other quickly and that public attention had now turned to the repercussions of Mr. Trump contracting Covid-19.
Two more debates are planned between Messrs. Trump and Biden—on Oct. 15 in Miami and Oct. 22 in Nashville, Tenn.—though the president’s coronavirus infection might affect that schedule. Vice President Mike Pence, who reported testing negative Friday, and Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) are slated to debate Wednesday at the University of Utah.
Voters in the new survey viewed Mr. Trump as better suited than his challenger to handle the economy, 48% to 41%.
But the poll found the president struggling to gain traction on other issues in a campaign that has shifted focus from racial justice to his call for more “law and order” and, more recently, to a Supreme Court vacancy. Mr. Biden leads two-to-one on which candidate can best handle race relations, and he holds single-digit leads on handling crime and making Supreme Court nominations, the poll found.
Now, Mr. Trump’s bout with the virus will likely keep the public focused on the pandemic, an issue that voters believe Mr. Biden would be better at handling, 52% to 35%.
The poll also found voters divided over the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, though many voters say they don’t yet have an opinion on the matter.
Some 35% say they support the nomination, with 34% opposing it and 30% undecided. Views of Judge Barrett’s nomination show record partisanship: Some 76% of Republicans support the selection, the largest share of a president’s party backing a high court pick in Journal/NBC News polling dating to the selection of now-Chief Justice John Roberts in 2005.
Half of voters say the winner of the presidential election should fill the Supreme Court seat, compared with 38% who would move ahead with Mr. Trump’s nomination now—essentially the same shares who support Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump in the election.
In the new survey, 45% of voters identified as Democrats and 36% as Republicans, a 9-point gap that is larger than the average 6-point advantage for Democrats in prior Journal/NBC News polling this year. Journal/NBC News pollsters don’t adjust the sample to meet benchmarks for party identification, as they do for other voter characteristics, such as race. That is because people often shift their party identification in tandem with changing feelings about the two parties and their candidates.
The electorate, for example, included equal shares of Democrats and Republicans when then-President George W. Bush won re-election in 2004, exit polls found. But more people identified as Democrats than as Republicans, by about 7 percentage points, during Barack Obama’s two victories in 2008 and 2012.
The Journal/NBC News pollsters said they detected no sign that Republicans disproportionately declined to participate in the poll or to answer their phones.
The survey of 800 registered voters was conducted on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.