Neck and neck in Biden-Trump: The Sequel

As Donald Trump closes in on the Republican nomination, my latest polling from the US finds him neck and neck with Joe Biden – and reveals much about how the presidential race is shaping up.


State of the nation

Voters of all persuasions were downbeat about the state of the country and its immediate prospects. Nearly two thirds in my 10,000-sample survey said they thought America was heading in the wrong direction, and those who voted for Biden in 2020 were more likely to think this than that the country was on the right track.



This was reflected in our focus groups, in which voters of all political backgrounds were worried about the economy, the cost of living, border control, crime, political and social division, racial tension, and global instability. On the economy, despite rising stock markets and growing consumer confidence, few in our focus groups felt better off than they had in recent months and many said they still struggled with living costs, especially food.



Part of the upshot of all this is that Americans say they Biden’s performance by 58% to 37% – worse numbers than Trump faced at the same stage of his presidency. One in four of those who voted for Biden in 2020 said they now disapproved of the way he was doing his job. Disapproval of Kamala Harris’s performance as vice president was slightly lower than Biden’s (at 52%), but so was approval (at 36%). Black voters and those aged under 34 were the only groups to give Harris a slightly higher approval rating than Biden.

Those in our focus groups who had voted for Biden in 2020 usually said they had done so with fairly low expectations, and often simply as a means of removing President Trump. Specific hopes for the Biden presidency had included a more unifying approach, cancelling student debt and voting rights reform, which some felt had been delivered in part. A few named specific achievements, including greater civility, a stabilising economy, support for Ukraine and Israel, partial cancelling of student debt, and support for striking car workers.

Complaints about the Biden presidency were rather more numerous. These included lack of action on the Mexican border, shutting down the Keystone XL, pipeline, too much emphasis on what they regarded as marginal issues, weakness in foreign affairs emboldening bad actors and failure to deliver on campaign promises. Some also felt the administration was too ready to give away money – including student debt cancellation, which was resented by people who had saved and paid for their own or their children’s college education – and that it had moved sharply to the left having campaigned on the moderate centre ground.


I don’t think he has a freaking clue what’s going on… Every time he speaks I get so nervous because I don’t know what’s going to come out.


Whatever their voting backgrounds, people in all our groups worried about Biden’s age and health and many felt he could hardly do the job now, let alone in four years’ time. This was a major factor for 2020 Biden voters considering whether to support him in 2024. As one put it, “Honestly, I don’t think he has a freaking clue what’s going on. It’s the people that are running him, his handlers. Every time he speaks I get so nervous because I don’t know what’s going to come out.”


The primary season

When we asked likely Republican primary voters how they would vote when the contest came to their state, we found Donald Trump ahead of Nikki Haley by 82% to 14%. When we asked Republicans what lay behind the continuing appeal of Donald Trump, the answer was usually that that while they might not always like his behaviour, they believed he would act on the issues they cared about and had the force of personality to get things done – “he can’t be bossed”. Many added that this was demonstrated by his record in office: they cited a stronger economy, action on immigration and the border, efforts to even the terms of trade with China, the appointment of conservative judges to the Supreme Court, and a robust international stance resulting in outcomes like the Abraham Accords.


He’s said, day one I’m going to lock down that border. I’m going to open up the drilling. I’m going to get prices down, inflation down. He has actionable items, and the thing is, he already did it once. I don’t think he has to prove himself.


Those inclined to support Trump expected that in a second term he would close the border, finish the wall, strengthen the economy, make the US more independent in terms of energy and manufacturing and extricate America from foreign wars. Several reluctant Trump supporters said they would happily back an alternative candidate if they had the same agenda and seemed capable of delivering it, but no such candidate was available as far as they could see.

Some of those leaning towards Trump accepted that there could be some substance to the legal cases against him, just as some opponents accepted that the motivation to bring charges against him was probably partly political. A few previous Trump voters said they would find it difficult to vote for him if he were convicted by a jury, but most said they would still consider doing so, since the issues at stake were too important and the charges had in their view only been brought for political reasons.



Only just over a quarter (26%) of voters thought the legal proceedings against Trump made him less likely to win the presidential election, down 8 points since our previous survey in November 2023. 28% thought they would make no difference to the outcome, and 3 in 10 (including 57% of his 2020 voters) thought the proceedings made him more likely to win.

Very likeable, she speaks well. I think she’s got a grip on what moderate Republicans are looking for. I think she would be respected in Congress and in other countries.


A number of participants had a positive view of Nikki Haley, especially in our groups in her neighbouring state of North Carolina. They mentioned her executive experience as a governor and foreign policy expertise, and some liked what they saw as her more moderate rhetoric on abortion and her position on supporting international allies including Ukraine. Some thought she was more likely to attract moderates and independents than Trump. They also saw her as more dignified and presidential than her Republican rival, and liked the fact that she was considerably younger than both parties’ front runners.

She’s a globalist neocon warmonger. Everything the Republican party used to be, she’s that.


Her Republican critics felt she represented the old GOP establishment, corporate America, the donor class, and a globalist rather than “America First” outlook (though all disliked Trump’s descriptions of her as “birdbrain” and an “impostor”). Many said they did not know much about her and would not take the trouble to find out since her prospects looked slight – though a few said the fact that she was well behind in her native South Carolina was not encouraging.


The presidential election

We asked half our sample whether Joe Biden or Donald Trump would do a better job on a range of issues. We asked the other half whether a generic ‘Democratic president’ or ‘Republican president’ would do a better job.



Trump had a clear lead over Biden on immigration and the border (23 points), defence and national security (13 points), the economy and jobs (12), taxes (11), crime (11) and the cost of living (10). He was marginally ahead on representing America internationally (2), standing up for ordinary Americans (1) and defending constitutional rights (1), and the two were tied when it came to energy security. Biden enjoyed clear leads on climate change and the environment (15) and healthcare (10).

On every issue, Trump achieved a higher score than the generic Republican, while Biden achieved an equal or lower score than the generic Democrat.

When we asked how people would vote in the presidential election in various scenarios, we found Trump and Biden tied on 40% among registered voters – but Biden ahead of Haley by 11 points, and “a Democrat other than Joe Biden” ahead of both Trump (by 6 points) and Haley (by 15 points).



In the Biden-Trump match-up, Trump led among men (by 7 points), 18-24s (6), 25-34s (8), white voters (10) and Hispanic voters (1). He also led among non-graduates, by between 3 points (some college) and 20 points (those who did not complete high school). Biden led among women (by 8 points), 45-54s (6), those aged 65+ (6), black voters (33, but with Trump on 22%), and those with a bachelor’s (10) and postgraduate degrees (22).

Those who voted for Biden in 2020 but strongly disapproved of his performance as president said would vote for Trump over Biden by 31% to 14%, but more than half said either that they would vote for another candidate (35%) or didn’t know or would not vote (20%). However, 2020 Biden voters who only somewhat disapproved of his performance backed Biden over Trump by 47% to 8%, with 24% saying they would vote for another candidate and 21% saying they didn’t know or would not vote.

We also asked all respondents how motivated they would be to turn out and vote in the presidential election in each of these scenarios, on a 10-point scale. In a Biden v. Trump election, 50% of registered voters said they would be 10/10 motivated to turn out, including 52% of 2020 Biden voters and 57% of 2020 Trump voters. The 10/10 proportion falls only slightly to 48% in a contest between Trump and a Democrat other than Biden, but drops to 37% in the event of a match-up between Biden and Nikki Haley.



Asked who they expected to be sworn in as president on inauguration day, 38% of Americans named Donald Trump and 28% named Joe Biden. Trump was thought the most likely victor by all age groups and by white and Hispanic voters – though black voters expected a Biden victory by 37% to 25%. In terms of education levels, those with postgraduate degrees were the only group more likely than not to expect a second Biden term.

More than three quarters (76%) of 2020 Trump voters expected a Trump victory, compared to 58% of 2020 Biden voters who expected Biden to be sworn in again.

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