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Six months out, a tight presidential race with battle between issues and attributes: POLL

Written by on May 6, 2024

ABC News / IPSOS Poll

(NEW YORK) — Locked in a tight race for the presidency, Donald Trump prevails in trust to handle most issues in a new ABC News/Ipsos poll, yet President Joe Biden scores competitively on key personal attributes — leaving wide open the question of who’ll prevail come Election Day, now six months away.

Excluding people who say they wouldn’t vote, Trump has 46% support, Biden 44%, in this national survey of more than 2,200 adults. (Nearly all the rest say they’d pick someone else.) Among registered voters, it’s Biden 46%, Trump 45%. Among likely voters, it’s Biden 49%, Trump 45%, again not a significant difference.

See PDF for full results.

A five-way contest doesn’t change the picture in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates with fieldwork by Ipsos. This finds the race at 42% for Trump and 40% for Biden, with 12% for Robert F. Kennedy Jr., 2% for Cornel West and 1% for Jill Stein. (That, of course, assumes Kennedy, West and Stein are on the ballot in all states, an open question.) Among registered voters in the five-way race, it’s 42-42%, Biden-Trump, and Biden is a non-significant +3 or +4 points in likely voter models.

Kennedy gets 12% even though 77% of his supporters say they know “just some” or “hardly anything” about his positions on the issues. Notably, his supporters are more apt to be Republicans or GOP-leaning independents (54%) than Democrats and Democratic leaners (42%, a slight difference given sample sizes), and in a two-way race, they favor Trump over Biden by 13 points. That may explain why Trump attacked Kennedy as a stalking horse in social media posts last week.

Another result finds a potential risk for Trump in his current trial in New York on charges of falsifying business records to hide a payoff to a pornographic actress who says they had sex, which he denies. Eighty percent of Trump’s supporters say they’d stick with him even if he’s convicted of a felony in this case. But that leaves 20% who say they’d either reconsider their support (16%) or withdraw it (4%) — easily enough to matter in a close race.

That said, a chief question raised by the survey is why Biden is competitive at all, given his substantial disadvantages. Just 35% of Americans approve of his job performance, with 57% disapproving; that’s 2 points from his career low in approval in January and well below the level historically associated with reelection. Forty-three percent say they’ve gotten worse off financially under his presidency. An overwhelming 81% say he’s too old for another term. Trump easily outpoints him in perceived mental sharpness and physical health.

Trump, moreover, leads in trust to handle six of 10 issues tested in the survey, with Biden ahead in just two. That includes, for Trump, the three most-cited issues in importance — the economy, on which he has a 14-point advantage; inflation, again 14 points; and crime and safety, 8 points. He tops out with a 17-point lead in trust to handle immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border and leads by 8 points in trust to handle the war between Israel and Hamas and 7 points on “America’s standing in the world.” Biden’s leads are on abortion access (+12, but comparatively low-rated as an issue) and health care, +5.

It’s also the case that Biden lacks traditional Democratic advantages among young adults and Hispanic people, and he’s about 20 points weaker among Black people under age 50 than among those 50 and older. But he and Trump run essentially evenly, 42-40%, among independents, who are swing voters in most presidential elections; Biden leads by 11 points among moderates; and among those who have held steady financially — not gaining ground but at least not losing it — he’s up by a broad 66-21%.

Other factors help explain why, despite his weaknesses, Biden is in the game. He leads by 16 points on one important personal attribute, being seen as honest and trustworthy, and is about tied with Trump on two others — representing your personal values (Biden +3) and understanding the problems of people like you (Biden +1). And while neither is popular, more people see Biden favorably as a person, 40%, than see Trump favorably, 33%.

Further, substantial numbers of Americans don’t trust either candidate to handle the issues tested in the survey — and among them, in most albeit not all cases, Biden leads. For instance, among the 14% who don’t trust either to handle the economy (excluding nonvoters), Biden has 49% support, Trump 13%. (The rest mainly pick someone else.) In other examples, Biden leads by 45 points among those who don’t trust either candidate on immigration and by 35 points among those who don’t trust either on inflation.

On personal attributes, among those who don’t think either candidate has the mental sharpness it takes to serve effectively — about three in 10 adults — Biden leads Trump by 63-15%. It’s a similar result among those who don’t think either has the physical health to serve. On the other hand, Trump leads by about as wide a margin among those who don’t think either is honest and trustworthy.

Additionally, while eight in 10 see Biden as too old to serve another term, a smaller majority, 55%, says the same about Trump. And Biden wins 39% support even from those who say he’s too old; Trump gets less support, 25%, among those who say this about him.

Nonetheless, results on “double-haters” are mixed. Among people who have unfavorable views of both candidates — a more Republican group — Trump leads Biden, 48 to 26%. But among those who disapprove of the work both have done during their presidencies — a more Democratic group — Biden leads with a similar margin, 48-21%.

In any case, it’s certainly a match between unpopular figures. More people see Biden as a person unfavorably than favorably, 40-51%, favorable-unfavorable. But Trump’s score, as noted, is worse, 33-58%. And 44% see Trump strongly unfavorably, 10 points more than say the same for Biden.

Trump pushes back with a better retrospective job approval rating, 44-50%, approve-disapprove, than Biden has today. And among Trump’s supporters, 55% back him strongly, vs. 44% strong support for Biden among his supporters.

History

From a historical perspective, Biden has a hill to climb, but not an impossible one. In data since the Truman administration, three presidents with underwater approval ratings in the spring before Election Day won a second term — Barack Obama in 2012, George W. Bush in 2004 and Harry S. Truman in 1948. Obama and Bush both bottomed out in this period at 47%, Truman at 36%, compared with Biden’s 35% today.

Of course, historical precedents go only so far, as demonstrated by the 2022 midterms, when the Democrats fared much better than Biden’s weak approval rating would have suggested.

Groups

Focusing on the two-way Biden-Trump race, results show the pull of partisanship and ideology. Eighty-eight percent of Democrats support Biden; 90% of Republicans are for Trump. (Nine percent of Democrats defect to Trump, while fewer Republicans, 5%, jump to Biden.) Independents, as mentioned, divide essentially evenly. In exit polls, the candidate who won independents has won the election in nine out of the last 12 presidential contests (all but in 2012, 2004 and 1976).

As reported Friday, liberals are more apt than others to say the United States is doing too much to support Israel and too little to help protect Palestinian civilians. Yet that doesn’t appear to move many votes: 84% of liberals support Biden (vs. 8% for Trump). Across the spectrum, 82% of conservatives prefer Trump (vs. 10% for Biden). Biden leads among moderates, 50-39%, though that’s weaker for him than in 2020.

Voters age 18-29 divide 43-48%, Biden-Trump; the difference is not statistically significant given the sample size, and it’s a far worse result for Biden than the typical Democratic advantage in this group. The same is true for Hispanic people, dividing 46-42%. And while Biden has 74% support from Black people, this, too, is off the usual Democratic lead in this group.

Few Black people, 13%, back Trump; as many pick someone else. But there’s a notable age gap: Black people age 50 and older support Biden over Trump by 85-5%. Among those younger than 50, it’s 64-20%.

There’s no significant gap between Black men and women. But there is a gender gap overall, with Trump up 9 points among men, Biden a non-significant 4 points among women. Among men aged 18-29, 54% back Trump, compared with 41% of women that age.

Biden is +6 points among seniors — also non-significant, but a group Trump won by single digits in 2020. In rural areas, a GOP stronghold, Biden picks up 35% from women, vs. 25% from men. At the same time, in urban areas, a Democratic bastion, Trump wins 40% of men, vs. 30% of women.

There’s a big gap by education, with Biden +19 points among college graduates, Trump +15 among non-grads. Trump has 79% support among evangelical white Protestants, a GOP mainstay and a key source of his strength in the primaries. And it’s a 46-45% race in the seven expected swing states, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Likely voters

The poll tests a few versions of likely voters, e.g., those who say they are registered to vote or will register and are certain to vote in November; and those who fit that definition and also say they voted in 2020, if old enough to have done so.

Trump is +2 points among all adults (excluding nonvoters) while Biden is +4 among likely voters. While neither is a statistically significant difference, the reason for the Biden bump is that more educated people are more likely to vote, and, as noted, Biden leads Trump by 19 points among college graduates. Among all adults in the survey, 35% have a college degree. Among likely voters, it’s 45%.

Other issues

The poll checked in on other issues; among them:

— Support for abortion rights remains widespread: Americans by 66-32% oppose the U.S. Supreme Court decision that did away with the constitutional right to abortion and by essentially the same margin say their own state should allow access to abortion in all or most cases.

— Biden’s executive orders to forgive student loan debt get a mixed to negative reception: 42% say he’s doing too much in this regard, 22% too little and 34% the right amount. Among those younger than 40, 30% say he’s doing too much to forgive these loans; this jumps to 53% of those age 50 and older.

— Thirty-nine percent call it highly important to them whom Biden picks as his running mate; 35% say the same for Trump. Overall, 54% say Biden should replace Kamala Harris as his choice for vice president; among Democrats, however, 76% say he should keep Harris. It’s about the same among Biden supporters.

— Eighty percent call undocumented immigration a problem nationally, including 54% who call it a major problem. Locally, in their own community, many fewer call it a problem, 46%, or a major problem, 22%. It’s seen as a problem locally, and a major problem nationally, particularly by Republicans and conservatives.

— Passage of a $61 billion aid package for Ukraine did not substantially impact attitudes on the subject. Thirty-nine percent of Americans say the United States is doing too much to help Ukraine, up 5 points from January but about the same as it was last fall. Twenty percent say the United States is doing too little; 39%, the right amount — both essentially unchanged.

Methodology

This ABC News/Ipsos poll was conducted online via the probability-based Ipsos KnowledgePanel® April 25-30, 2024, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 2,260 adults. Partisan divisions are 31% Democrats, 29% Republicans and 28% independents. Results have a margin of sampling error of 2 percentage points, including the design effect, for the full sample. Sampling error is not the only source of differences in polls.

The survey was produced by Langer Research Associates, with sampling and data collection by Ipsos. See details on ABC News survey methodology here.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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