Joe Biden and Donald Trump each face significant challenges in a potential rematch for the White House in 2024, a new USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll finds – but opposite ones.
For President Biden, expected to launch his reelection bid Tuesday, his standing among the voters who backed him in 2020 is wide but shallow, at risk of being eroded by a credible Democratic challenger for the nomination or a third-party candidate in the fall.
For former President Trump, support among his 2020 voters is deep but narrow, reinforced by controversies that are all but guaranteed to make it harder for him to expand his support in the general election.
Yin, meet yang.
The campaign of mirror images complicates some of the traditional calculations of who’s up, who’s down and what’s ahead. The poll of 600 Biden voters and 600 Trump voters, taken by landline and cellphone April 15-18, underscores the uncertainties.
The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
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Trump voters love their candidate. Biden voters are kind of meh
A muscular 93% of the voters who supported Trump in 2020 approve of the job he did as president; just 5% disapprove. What’s more, 45% say they are more excited about voting for him in 2024 than they were last time, a double-digit edge over the 33% who are less excited.
“Some candidates you can kind of be lukewarm about, but with Trump, it’s hot or cold,” said Ron Buffum, 77, a health insurance agent from Round Rock, Texas. A Republican and a Trump voter, he was among those called in the poll. Respondents were drawn from Suffolk national and state polls done from 2020 to 2022.
For Biden, 85% of his 2020 voters approve of the job he’s doing as president and 10% disapprove, a healthy rating but not quite the full embrace Trump has. More troubling for the current president: 43% of his voters report being less excited about supporting him next time, close to double the 24% who are more excited.
That enthusiasm gap could loom as a major factor when it comes to convincing supporters to cast their ballots.
Biden has held the broad middle of Democrats on policy
For a party sometimes defined by its fractures, Biden has managed to govern in a way that has satisfied most of the voters who put him in the White House. That’s a significant strength for a reelection campaign and an achievement that eluded his modern-day predecessors who were defeated for reelection.
Seventy percent of Biden voters say his positions and policies as president have been “about right.” That includes 73% of self-identified liberals, 78% of moderates and 65% of conservatives.
One in five, 21%, say he hasn’t been progressive enough, many of them among those who call themselves “very liberal.” Six percent say he’s been too progressive.
“I like what he did and has done,” said Danny Zamora, 64, a retiree from San Antonio, Texas, who voted for Biden. He says the president has “weathered” challenges from the economy to the COVID pandemic.
If that is Biden’s strongest asset, his greatest liability may be concern about his age, now 80. While a 55% majority of his voters say his age doesn’t make a difference to them, a significant number, 42%, say it makes them less likely to support him. At his inauguration in 2021, when he was 78, Biden became the oldest president ever sworn into the office.
“I think he’s wonderful,” said Tammy Hester, 51, an independent from suburban Prince George’s County, Maryland, who voted for Biden in 2020. But, she adds, “I just think it’s time that we go back to the era of young, fresh thoughts and ideas.”
Criminal indictment bolsters Trump – and that’s a risk
Indicted? So what?
Trump’s criminal indictment on financial charges in New York and the prospect that he may face additional indictments elsewhere on various charges doesn’t shake his core supporters. Two-thirds of his voters say his unprecedented legal peril doesn’t make a difference to them.
The others say by 7-1 that the indictments make them more likely to support him, not less likely, 27%-4%.
“It was politically motivated, and the Democrats are only hurting themselves,” said Francis Wihbey, 62, a real-estate developer from Branford, Connecticut, and a Republican who voted for Trump. He calls the former president “100% my choice.”
That makes it problematic for his GOP rivals to attack him on his legal problems. The instinct of the Republican base to double down in the face of such controversy feeds Trump’s own defiance and his focus on political grievances.
But the resistance that hardens his base could also repel other voters, even some of those inclined to support him on policy. On this, an asset in the primaries is likely to become a liability in the general election.
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Some of his supporters are signaling Trump fatigue. More than 1 in 4, 27%, say they don’t want him to run for the nomination. Those who would prefer someone else have a clear favorite. Six in 10 volunteer they would most like to vote for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, now considering a bid.
“They have fought, arguing, bickering back and forth so much that it’s just time for something different,” said Pamela Cozort, 64, an independent voter from Fort Smith, Arkansas, who voted for Trump in 2020.
That said, Trump swamps the current field of primary contenders with 69% of the vote. None of the candidates who have announced campaigns or formed exploratory committees, including former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, break into double digits.
In case you missed it:Trump charged with 34 felony counts in hush-money case, lashes out at DA Alvin Bragg
A third-party candidate could shuffle the deck
The ground is fertile for a third-party candidate on both sides, albeit in different ways.
While Biden voters are more loyal to the Democratic Party than to him personally, 65%-18%, Trump voters split 41%-43% on whether they feel more loyalty to Trump or to the GOP. If Trump isn’t the nominee, those supporters might vote for an independent candidate or not vote at all.
A third-party campaign could pose different problems for Democrats. Biden voters already say they don’t want him to seek a second term, 49%-40%. He doesn’t have a mainstream Democratic challenger, at least not yet, but even longshot rival Robert F. Kennedy Jr., scion of a famous political family who is known mostly as an anti-vaxx activist, carried a surprising 14% support for the Democratic nomination in the poll.
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If there is a Biden versus Trump redux, 6% of Trump voters and 9% of Biden voters say they would support an independent candidate. Some of those express eagerness for a new and younger generation of leaders. Among supporters concerned about Biden’s age, 15% would vote for an unnamed third-party contender.
Among Trump supporters, 17% say his age, now 76, makes them less likely to vote for him. Of those, 17% say they would vote for a third-party candidate.
“Both the 2020 Trump and Biden voters have a problem with the ages of the respective party favorites,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center. ” A young, independent party ticket with Democratic and Republican bona fides could be a compelling alternative to the ‘same old'”.
A third of the voters who now support an independent candidate say they would stick to that plan even if it made the other side more likely to win the White House.
Still, 50% of Biden voters and 42% of Trump voters say that spoiler argument would convince them to stick with their original candidate. Victoria Hausmann, 31, a business manager from Trumbull, Connecticut, says she would vote for a third-party candidate “if it would actually work, yes.” She likes Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, for one.
But in a Trump versus Biden rematch, she is “100% Biden,” she says. “Anyone but Trump.”