Half of survey respondents said Joe Biden did best in last week’s debate, with a quarter saying President Trump did better.
By Aaron Zitner
President Trump is drawing his weakest voter support of the year in his re-election race following Tuesday’s contentious debate with former Vice President Joe Biden, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds.
Mr. Biden, the Democratic nominee, leads the president, 53% to 39%, among registered voters in the new poll, which was conducted in the two days following the debate but before news emerged that Mr. Trump had tested positive for Covid-19. Mr. Biden’s 14-point lead compares with an 8-point advantage last month and 11 points in July, which was his largest of the campaign at that time.
The survey finds something rare in Journal/NBC News polling: evidence that an individual news event—the debate—is having a material effect on Mr. Trump’s political standing, at least for now. Significant events in the past, such as Mr. Trump’s impeachment by the House and acquittal by the Senate, had only hardened views of the president, not shifted them.
Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster who directed the survey with Democrat Jeff Horwitt, cautioned that the poll was conducted during an unsettled moment after the caustic presidential debate—“a shock to the system,” he called it—and could reflect a temporary reassessment of views. “The public can be taking a moment to say, ‘What did I just see, and how do I feel about it?’” he said. Mr. Trump could regain ground, Mr. McInturff said, given that “he has a history of bouncing back to some set point.”
For now, though, the poll represents a number of flashing caution signs for the president. His support has never before fallen below 40% on the ballot against Mr. Biden. Women, who outnumber men in the electorate, favor Mr. Biden in the survey by 27 percentage points, 60% to 33%, compared with 20 points last month. At the same time, support for Mr. Trump has softened among some of his most loyal groups, such as white, working-class men.
Negative views of the president dominate positive ones by 16 percentage points in the new survey, up from 11 points last month, and the share of voters with “very negative” views has hit 50% for the first time since Mr. Trump took office. Meanwhile, views of Mr. Biden turned net positive for the first time since 2018, though narrowly so.
Messrs. Horwitt and McInturff said one factor was the debate, a decorum-destroying event in which the two candidates traded insults and continually talked over each other, with Mr. Trump interrupting his opponent more often. About three-quarters of voters said the event made no difference to their vote. But among the other 25%, a bigger share said the debate made them more likely to support Mr. Biden than Mr. Trump.
While 84% of Democrats said Mr. Biden did a better job in the debate, 54% of Republicans said so of the president. Overall, half of voters said Mr. Biden performed better, with a quarter saying Mr. Trump did. Some 17% said neither candidate did well.
Asked more broadly about the candidates’ personal qualities, voters by a two-to-one margin said Mr. Biden was better at displaying “the right temperament to be president,” 58% to 26%.
“It is clear that the debate, and Mr. Trump’s behavior during it, reinforced the negative side of Mr. Trump personally for many respondents,” said Mr. Horwitt. He said the president “lost the American people on style more than substance.”
“What we know for sure is that the debate had consequence, at least initially,” said Mr. McInturff, who noted that big events have tumbled over each other quickly and that public attention had now turned to the repercussions of Mr. Trump contracting Covid-19.
Two more debates are planned between Messrs. Trump and Biden—on Oct. 15 in Miami and Oct. 22 in Nashville, Tenn.—though the president’s coronavirus infection might affect that schedule. Vice President Mike Pence, who reported testing negative Friday, and Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) are slated to debate Wednesday at the University of Utah.