Post-Debate Polling Trends

The changes are minor but in the wrong direction for the guy who's behind.

A couple of early post-debate polls from Morning Consult gave those of us desperately hoping to avoid a second Donald Trump presidency hope that President Biden’s poor showing didn’t hurt him in the least. Alas, subsequent polls aren’t pointing in the same direction.

Here’s the RealClearPolitics average:

I took the liberty of marking the last pre-debate average for reference.

Here’s what Nate Silver‘s aggregate is showing:

And here’s the post-Silver 538 aggregate run by the new team at ABC News:

Oh, and here are their trends for Biden popularity:

The good news, I suppose, is that the movements are relatively slight. As I’ve been arguing for quite some time, public opinion on Biden and Trump are fixed in a way that we’ve simply never seen in a presidential race, at least in my lifetime.

Still, the status quo is bad for Biden. Really bad. He’s 20 points underwater in approval with less than four months to go until the election. The last time he had net positive approval was almost three years ago.

Despite his opponent being a convicted felon who tried to steal the last election by inciting violence at the Capitol, Biden is behind in the polling and has been essentially the entire campaign cycle. And the polls have tended to underestimate Trump’s actual general election performance. As RealClearPolling notes,

This Day In History: July 8, 2020: Biden +8.8 | July 8, 2016: Clinton +4.7

Biden won by only 4.5 points in 2020 and Clinton won the popular vote (albeit, not the all-important Electoral College) by 2.1 points in 2016.

FILED UNDER: 2024 Election, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Mr. Prosser says:

    I love polls. I love the sound they don’t make sailing past the voters.

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  2. DK says:

    Still, the status quo is bad for Biden.

    Biden is very likely to be just fine no matter what.

    The status quo is bad for the United States of America, for the human race, and for Western democracy.

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  3. JKB says:

    The question arises, why Biden went all personality contest and no substantive issues?

    new NYT piece, “Biden’s Strategy to Make the Race About Trump Is Suddenly in Doubt/The Biden campaign’s effort to raise questions about Donald J. Trump’s ability to be president has boomeranged into a referendum on the president’s own competence” (by Reid J. Epstein).

    Matt Bennett, “a co-founder of Third Way, the Democratic think tank that has led efforts to stop independent and third-party candidates from siphoning votes from Mr. Biden” : “That means focusing voter attention on Trump’s criminality, chaos and cruelty. Once we emerge from this period of uncertainty, the party must get back to prosecuting that case full-time.”

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  4. DK says:

    @JKB:

    The question arises, why Biden went all personality contest and no substantive issues?

    He didn’t, Biden and Democrats are running against Trump, forced birth extremism, and Project 2025.

    Why are you not paying attention?

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  5. JKB says:

    @DK: forced birth extremism, and Project 2025.

    “forced birth extremism” is a state issue after Dobbs. And Trump is on record that it is and he’s does not support a national abortion limitation.

    “Project 2025” is a think tank product. It is less of a Trump policy ideas than the Hamas-aligned protestors call for abandoning Israel is the policy of Biden.

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  6. Andy says:

    Well, it seems like Biden is all in. We’ll see if the party elites and other officials stick with him.

    Personally, I don’t see how he wins absent a black swan. “Trump is bad” will only take you so far.

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  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    James, when was the last time a poll was accurate in any way shape or form?

    I’m not saying Biden is a lock, or anything else, Just pointing out that damned near every poll* of the last 5 or 10 or 15 or 20 years or so has been wrong.

    *I am allowing for the possibility that some poll somewhere that was not flogged by the NYT or WAPO or WSJ damned near every day actually got a trend right. NOT a result, just a trend.

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  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @JKB: How does the sand taste down there?

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  9. Mikey says:

    @JKB:

    “forced birth extremism” is a state issue after Dobbs. And Trump is on record that it is and he’s does not support a national abortion limitation.

    Oh please stop pissing on my leg and telling me it’s raining. The GOP is 100% working for a national ban and Trump will spout whatever bullshit he thinks will benefit him at any given moment.

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  10. Kathy says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I feel the need to counsel against hubris. Remember the skewed polls in 2012?

    The polls may be off, but the trend may be clear.

    There’s still a lot of campaigning time, and we’re getting to where the bulk of the populace starts to pay attention to the race.

    So I’ll repeat some earlier advice: either get Biden to step down now, or leave him alone and get behind him as though your life depended on it.

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  11. DK says:

    @JKB:

    Trump is on record

    So? Trump is a patholgical liar. He incited a terror attack on the Capitol based on sore loser lies so egregious that Fox News paid out a nearly billion dollar settlement for defaming a company while spreading those lies.

    Thus, “Trump is on record” is about as useful as a used piece of toilet paper.

    Forced birth extremism is the Republican party’s preferred policy. No state should have the power to abridge a woman’s right to mamage her pregnancy or prevent her from getting critical care. Yet the Republican Party platform endorses a national abortion ban. Just like rapist Trump has already long ago endorsed the ideas in Project 2025 — which was compiled by MAGA insiders including Peter Navarro (Trump Trade Director), Ben Carson (Trump HUD Secretary), and Ken Cuccinelli (Trump Homeland Security Secretary) among others.

    Conversely, Biden has never had “Hamas-aligned protesters” serving in his cabinet. So the comparison doesn’t quite work.

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  12. DK says:

    @Kathy:

    Remember the skewed polls in 2012?

    Skewed which way? Romney led national polls often as late as October 2012.

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  13. Kari Q says:

    The polling movement is completely in line with typical changes after a first debate with an incumbent president so the polls don’t really support any particular narrative, unless you really want them to. I’m officially on the record as saying the polls mean absolutely nothing this cycle – they make no sense, even internally within each poll there are things that make absolutely no sense.

    I would caution against assuming that the polling error from 2020 will be repeated in 2024. It may. Or it may not. Polls may overestimate the support of either candidate or both or neither. No one really knows how things stand.

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  14. Kari Q says:

    “Project 2025” is a think tank product. It is less of a Trump policy ideas

    Which, of course, is why his own super pac has been advertising it as “Trump’s Project 2025.”

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  15. Kathy says:

    @DK:

    I recall the polls late in the cycle favored Obama, and the Republicans of the time claimed the polls were skewed.

    The narrative was that people wouldn’t tell pollsters they weren’t voting for Obama, because that would make them seem racist (spoiler alert, not unless the reason was “I’m not voting for Obama because he’s black.”)

    They were wrong.

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  16. Alex K says:

    A few things to note about the polls.

    – RFK ain’t getting 8%. If history is any guide, he’ll be lucky to clear 2%.

    – The past few cycles have shown that toplines are less important than crosstabs

    – Who is Biden winning? Aside from the Democratic base, he is winning the age 65+ group, suburban women and people who voted in 2020. In other words, the people MOST LIKELY TO VOTE.

    – Who is Trump winning apart from his base? Single men with no college education. People who didn’t vote in 2020 and other relatively disengaged groups. In other words, the kind of voters who don’t reliably vote and require a massive, organized GOTV effort … which Trump doesn’t have.

    – Abortion is on the ballot in several battleground states, points to Biden.

    – Biden has the advantage of incumbency. Unemployment is low and other economic metrics are improving. He’s got strong fundamentals which is not just helpful but gives Trump’s biggest non-base supporters less urgency to vote.

    – Democrats have generally outperformed polls since 2018 just the way Repblicans used to, likely because they’re doing better with the more reliable voter demographics than they did in 2016 and earlier.

    Bottom line: it’s not impossible for Trump to win. He may even have an advantage–but Biden has a lot of other advantages when you dig deeper into who is voting this election.

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  17. Gustopher says:

    @JKB:

    “forced birth extremism” is a state issue after Dobbs. And Trump is on record that it is and he’s does not support a national abortion limitation.

    Abortion is either murder, or it isn’t. If it is murder, as the Republicans have been saying since the late 70s, then it’s murder everywhere.

    No one thinks killing babies is fine in New Jersey, but just not something the good people of Florida can get behind. That’s shockingly stupid.

    There is no one who seriously thinks abortion should be left to the states.

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  18. Kylopod says:

    @Kathy:

    I recall the polls late in the cycle favored Obama, and the Republicans of the time claimed the polls were skewed.

    I decided to check the historical record (via Google) against my memory. Dean Chambers launched his “unskewed polls” website late in September, more than a week ahead of the first debate. At that point Obama was leading in most polls and had been for months.

    On Oct. 9, six days after the first debate that Obama was almost universally judged to have bombed, Romney acquired a lead in RCP’s average, which apart from one brief dip he would maintain until the end of October. Obama regained his lead in November, though still ended up significantly outperforming RCP’s final average (which showed him ahead by just 0.7 points, an error of 3.2, more than three times as bad an error as the one in 2016).

    Whether Obama was leading or trailing, Chambers stuck to his position that the polls were overestimating Obama. He claimed the polls oversampled Democrats (in fact the polls accurately reflected the population, which contained more Dems than Republicans), and he pointed to Romney’s lead among independents (and Romney did in fact go on to win the indie vote by a significant margin–contrary to popular belief, the indie vote is not a bellwether). After the election, Chambers claimed Obama only won due to voter fraud.

    Of course, the Dean Chambers episode provides a lesson against partisan hackery and wishful thinking. But it isn’t a good argument for dismissing all criticisms of election polling, as I see many people do. Indeed, the 2012 polls were skewed–in favor of Republicans. They were skewed in the Dems’ favor in the following two cycles. The concept of polls being skewed isn’t ridiculous in itself, it’s just hard to predict in advance which party is benefiting, because historically it’s gone both ways.

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  19. Fog says:

    One small quibble here. A few days back, polling data was referred to here as “actual data” compared to opinion. I would beg to differ. There seems to be a whiff of opinion in polling as well, so I consider votes to be actual data as compared to polls.

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  20. James Joyner says:

    @Fog: Survey data is, by definition, data. It’s a sampling of public opinion at a moment in time. It’s not perfect but it’s damned predictive over time and the best indicator we have of the outcome ahead of time.

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  21. Neil Hudelson says:

    @DK:

    Individual polls had Romney leading as late as October 2012. But the bulk of the polls throughout the race had Obama ahead, and during the tight final stretch the polls had a mix of leads, essentially tied. https://www.realclearpolling.com/polls/president/general/2012/obama-vs-romney

    The issue is not that a single poll is saying Biden’s in a tough spot, it’s that a preponderous of polls is saying such.

    The bad news; on a presidential level, the polls have been decent over the last decade. There’s been some misses, notably during the pandemic year of 2020, but on average it’s hard to say that they’ve never been correct over the last 10-20 years. Due to electoral college victories that defy voting results, and due to a tendency to forget about the MoE, we have often interpreted the polls incorrectly, but on average polling has been good.

    The good news: forgetting about the MoE goes both ways. Biden’s gap is largely within the MoE, and there’s still a lot of…ok some…time to make up ground.

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  22. James Joyner says:

    @Neil Hudelson: The margin of error of individual polls essentially goes away with aggregation. That’s especially true when the polls have shown the same thing for months.

    Now, it’s entirely possible that there is a systematic bias in the polls beyond sampling error. Maybe Biden voters are less likely to answer polls or more likely to turn out. But that’s a different thing than the “margin of error.”

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  23. Kathy says:

    @Kylopod:

    That’s a lot more nuanced and complicated than I recall. But I didn’t pay much attention to politics at the time.

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  24. Andy says:

    So implication that Biden isn’t losing because the polls may be bad ignores the track record of polls (especially the aggregates as James noted), and ignores that Biden is performing worse on just about every metric compared to 2020 – an election decided by, iirc, less than 200k votes in the swing states.

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  25. Alex K says:

    The poll aggregates don’t look great for Biden but it’s still a coin flip.

    But the other thing to consider is that the poll aggregates have RFK Jr polling at close to 10%. Does anyone realistically believe he’ll get anywhere close to that? Historically speaking he’s probably lucky to get 5% and if I were putting money on it I’d say 3%.

    Plus the aggregates have undecideds at somewhere around 8%. Has it ever been that high in a recent cycle at this point in the election?

    Frankly if I’m Trump I’m worried. The base is locked up but those dissatisfied with Biden aren’t going to him – they’re saying undecided or RFK.

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