As he begins his campaign for reelection, President Biden faces substantial and multiple challenges, according to a Washington Post-ABC News survey. His overall approval ratings have slipped to a new low, more Americans than not doubt his mental acuity, and his support against leading Republican challengers is far shakier than at this point four years ago.
Former president Donald Trump leads a still-forming field of candidates for the Republican nomination, receiving about twice as much support as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. But Trump carries his own baggage, with a majority saying he should face criminal charges in cases involving efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, events leading to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob and his handling of classified documents.
Biden announced his reelection campaign barely two weeks ago with a video highlighting the attack on the Capitol, and he focused on Republican efforts to further restrict abortion access, limit LGBTQ rights, ban books and alter school history curriculums.
Biden’s emphasis on what his campaign calls a freedom agenda was an early indication of his determination to shift voters’ focus away from their reservations about him and instead make the 2024 general election a choice rather than a referendum. Even among fellow Democrats, most say they prefer that their party nominate “someone other than Biden,” a view that has been consistent in polls since before the midterm elections in which Democrats performed far better than expected.
Biden’s overall job approval rating stands at 36 percent, down from 42 percent in February and about the same as the previous low of 37 percent in a Post-ABC poll conducted in early 2022. His disapproval stands at 56 percent, including 47 percent who disapprove “strongly.” Other recent polls have pegged Biden’s approval in the low 40s without a decline in recent months.
Biden’s approval rating is underwater among a slew of groups that supported him by wide margins in 2020. He stands at 26 percent approval among Americans under age 30, 42 percent among non-White adults, 41 percent among urban residents and 46 percent of those with no religious affiliation. Among independents who voted for Biden in 2020, 57 percent approve while 30 percent disapprove. Among independents who voted for Trump, 96 percent disapprove.
Biden’s overall approval ratings, however, are only part of a broader and largely negative assessment of him as a candidate for reelection.
Biden has presided over an economy that has included strong job growth and low unemployment but also high inflation. While inflation has declined in recent months, Americans across party lines continue to express concern about prices and rate the economy negatively overall. Markets remain sluggish in the face of concerns that the Federal Reserve’s efforts to curb inflation will trigger a recession or additional bank failures.
Biden inherited from Trump an economy badly damaged by the coronavirus pandemic, but the public sees the former president as a better economic steward than the incumbent. In the poll, by 54 percent to 36 percent, Americans say Trump did a better job handling the economy when he was president than Biden has done during his presidency so far.
Biden would be 82 at the beginning of a second term and 86 at its end. Republicans have made clear that they will raise questions about his capacities — Trump and others do so regularly — and the president himself has said voters have every right to consider his age as they think about their 2024 choice.
Doubts about how well Biden would perform have risen since he ran in 2020. Today, 63 percent say he does not have the mental sharpness to serve effectively as president, up from 43 percent in 2020 and 54 percent a year ago. A similar 62 percent say Biden is not in good enough physical health to be effective.
Trump, the leading candidate for the GOP nomination, is no youngster. He would be 78 in January 2025 at the time of the next inauguration. But in contrast to Biden, most Americans (54 percent) say he is sufficiently sharp mentally to serve as president and 64 percent say he is physically fit enough to serve.
Neither Biden nor Trump is viewed positively on questions of honesty and trustworthiness, but Trump, who has lied repeatedly in claiming the 2020 election was rife with fraud and therefore stolen, is seen more negatively. Today, 33 percent say Trump is honest and trustworthy while 63 percent say he is not. In comparison, 41 percent say Biden is honest and trustworthy while 54 percent say he is not.
Trump’s numbers on honesty and trustworthiness have varied only marginally since he first became a candidate in 2015. He has never reached even 40 percent positive in Post-ABC polls on this question. Biden, meanwhile, has seen perceptions of his honesty deteriorate. Three years ago, 48 percent said he was honest compared with 45 percent who said he was not.
Another warning sign for Biden and his team comes in hypothetical ballot tests. Throughout the 2020 campaign, Biden generally led Trump in head-to-head pre-election polls — and in November 2020, he won 51 percent of the popular vote to Trump’s 47 percent. Today, Biden is running behind the former president on the question of whom voters prefer for 2024.
When asked who they would support in 2024, 44 percent of voting-age adults say they would “definitely” or “probably” vote for Trump while 38 percent would definitely or probably vote for Biden. The remaining 18 percent are either undecided or gave another answer.
If DeSantis were the Republican nominee, 42 percent today say they would definitely or probably vote for the Florida governor, as 37 percent would back Biden and 21 percent are undecided or chose another option.
The fact that there are so many voters who say they are undecided adds to the unpredictability about the outcome in 2024 and gives one indication of how fiercely fought the coming election will be. Advisers to the main candidates all anticipate that the electoral college result will be determined by votes in half a dozen states.
As expected, Republicans and Democrats remain deeply polarized on their 2024 choice, with 88 percent of Republicans saying they would definitely or probably vote for Trump and 83 percent of Democrats saying they would back Biden.
Among independents, 42 percent say they would definitely or probably back Trump, 34 percent say they are for Biden, and nearly a quarter say they are either undecided, would vote for neither or would not vote at all. Those findings mark a drop-off in support for Biden compared with the 2020 results, when he won independents by nine points, according to a post-election survey of validated voters by the Pew Research Center.
Biden won suburban voters in 2020 with 54 percent of the vote, according to that same Pew study. In the new Post-ABC poll, Trump slightly leads Biden among suburbanites, with Trump at 45 percent and Biden at 39 percent, a difference that is within the poll’s margin of error. Trump has a huge lead among rural voters while Biden has a small lead among urban voters.
Biden leads among non-White voters while Trump leads among White voters. White voters are split depending on levels of education, following a pattern that has existed in recent presidential and congressional elections. Trump does best (60 percent) among White men without college degrees and next best (56 percent) among White women without college degrees. Biden does best (50 percent) with White women who have college degrees. Among White men with college degrees, he and Trump run about even (41 percent to 43 percent).
Among Americans who say Biden lacks the mental sharpness to serve as an effective president, 12 percent nonetheless say they would definitely or probably vote for him against Trump.
Beyond perceptions that he is not honest, Trump has other vulnerabilities with a general-election electorate. The poll finds a 56 percent majority of Americans saying he should face criminal charges in investigations of his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results. Similarly, 54 percent support charges against Trump for his role in the events leading up to the storming of the Capitol in January 2021 and, separately, for his handling of classified documents after he left office.
Trump was recently charged with 34 felony counts in New York in a case involving hush money paid to an adult film actress, with the former president alleged to have falsified business records to cover up the payment. About half of Americans (49 percent) say this case was brought “appropriately to hold Trump accountable under the law like anyone else,” while 44 percent say it was brought “inappropriately to try to hurt Trump politically.” Trump has pleaded not guilty in the case.
Republicans largely defend Trump, with 82 percent saying the New York case was brought inappropriately to hurt Trump and large majorities of Republicans also standing in opposition to charging Trump in the cases involving efforts to overturn the 2020 election, his role in the Capitol attack and his retention of classified documents. But a majority of independents support criminal charges for Trump on each of these issues.
Still, 26 percent of independents who support charging Trump in any of the three cases say they would definitely or probably vote for him against Biden, while 48 percent back Biden and the rest would support neither, would not vote or are undecided.
Since Trump’s arraignment in New York, some polls measuring the Republican nomination contest have found support for him growing. The Post-ABC poll finds Trump in a strong position against potential GOP rivals at this early stage in that contest.
In an open-ended question that did not offer names of candidates, 43 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents volunteer Trump as their choice for the party’s nomination while 20 percent name DeSantis. All other candidates mentioned by name are at 2 percent or lower. About a quarter of Republicans (27 percent) offer no preference when asked to name a favored candidate.
Combining those responses with a second question naming six candidates, the overall result shows 51 percent supporting Trump and 25 percent backing DeSantis. Former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley and former vice president Mike Pence each receive 6 percent, while 4 percent support Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) and 1 percent back former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson.
Three-quarters of Republicans say they would be satisfied with Trump as the Republican nominee (75 percent), while 64 percent say they would be satisfied with DeSantis.
Education and ideology are key dividing lines within the Republican electorate. Trump leads DeSantis by 56 percent to 22 percent among Republicans without college degrees, while college graduates are roughly split between the two at 36 percent for Trump and 33 percent for DeSantis. Haley receives 12 percent support among college graduates compared with 4 percent among those without four-year college degrees.
Among Republicans who call themselves “very conservative” in the primary, 58 percent support Trump, as do 52 percent of those who are “somewhat conservative” and 37 percent who are moderate or liberal. DeSantis’s support is more consistent across these groups (around a quarter), while support for Pence peaks among moderates (11 percent).