Poll finds Biden damaged by debate; with Harris and Clinton best positioned to win

A top Democratic pollster has a new survey showing President Joe Biden still in contention against Donald Trump, but at further risk of losing the election — with other leading Democrats now surging ahead.

The national poll, conducted and commissioned by the firm Bendixen & Amandi after Biden’s politically disastrous debate and shared exclusively with POLITICO, found Biden trailing Trump, 42 percent to 43 percent.

Of the 86 percent of likely voters who watched all or part of the debate, just 29 percent said Biden has the mental capacity and physical stamina to serve another four-year term, compared with 61 percent who said he does not. Only 33 percent said he should continue as the Democratic nominee, versus 52 percent who believe he should not. And just half of Democrats said Biden should be the party’s nominee or is mentally and physically fit to serve out another term.

Vice President Kamala Harris is now running ahead of Trump, 42 percent to 41 percent, the survey found. And former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the 2016 nominee who is not being seriously discussed as a candidate by voters anxious about Biden’s chances, is slightly ahead of Harris. Clinton leads Trump 43 percent to 41 percent.

The poll also tested other potential Democratic tickets — and found one headed up by Clinton, with Harris staying on as her vice presidential nominee, in the strongest position. Clinton-Harris is beating Trump 43 percent to 40 percent, a four-point advantage over Biden-Harris.

Fernand Amandi, the veteran Miami-based pollster whose firm advised former President Barack Obama in his two presidential campaigns and conducted the new poll on Biden and Democrats, pointed to the more than one-third of Democrats who both don’t view the president as fit to run and said he shouldn’t continue on in the contest. “Voters have significant concerns about President Biden’s advanced age, and their concerns have only grown louder,” he said. “But [they are] still not enough where it has made the race a blowout for Trump.”

Amandi said he was most taken aback by the Democrat who outperformed the others.

“I’m really surprised by Hillary’s strength,” he said. “While some dismiss her as yesterday’s news and a candidate of the past, voters at least in this poll suggest they may be open to a Clinton comeback and that a ticket with Clinton as president and Harris as vice president is even ‘stronger together’” he added, referring to the slogan for Clinton’s unsuccessful campaign in 2016.

The poll tested other leading Democrats who are positioned to run should Biden step away, though it found them trailing both Harris and Trump. California Gov. Gavin Newsom is running behind Trump, 37 percent to 40 percent, and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is just a bit further behind the former president, 36 percent to 40 percent.

The new survey of 1,000 likely November voters had a 3.1 percent margin of error and was conducted between July 2 and July 6. It comes as a growing number of Democratic officials, donors and activists dial up pressure on Biden to exit the race after his June 27 debate debacle against Trump.

Anthony Williams, special projects director at Bendixen & Amandi, said the openness to someone in the mold of Clinton showed a desire for a candidate who has been tested on the international stage.

“There’s a certain sophistication at play in the way voters are reacting. They are not knee-jerk reacting to the names that are being bandied about on television,” Williams said. “They are struggling with the same question the party is struggling with: Do we go with experience, or do we go with new? And I think, given everything going on with the world right now, if they can find someone with experience, that would help them sleep a little better.

“We’re talking about relatively small differences — but important differences in a race that could come down to a couple points,” Williams added. “It’s almost as if [Clinton] finishes out Biden’s term in the experience lane.”

A Democratic ticket led by Harris as the presidential nominee and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro as her running mate also fared well, besting Trump by two percentage points, 42 percent to 40 percent. But a Harris-led ticket with Whitmer as her VP nominee is 2 percentage points behind Trump, 39 to 41 percent.

Clinton, who at 76 is younger than Trump and Biden, has publicly vowed not to run for president again and reaffirmed her support for Biden following his nightmare debate in Atlanta. Shapiro, 51, took office last year after serving as attorney general. An active Democratic surrogate, he is considered the most popular politician in his crucial battleground state. Newsom and Whitmer are in their final terms and have been on the road in recent days stumping and raising money for Biden.

Biden has rejected calls to step aside and pledged to keep running. He and White House officials pointed to his heavy travel schedule in the weeks before the debate and said he had a bad cold. They said he has not had a cognitive examination and that there is no reason for him to undergo one.

But the poll included a provocative question that asked likely voters whether they would support Biden if he were cognitively diminished because of his age and unlikely to complete another four years — if it meant preventing Trump from winning.

Forty-eight percent of voters said they would not vote for Biden for that reason, versus 44 percent who said they would, including 75 percent of Democrats. The strongest demographic group for Biden was Black voters, 55 percent of whom said they would still support his run even if he suffered from age-related impairment and couldn’t make it to 2029.



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