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Poll: Biden's national lead over Trump jumps to 14 points after debate

Democrat Joe Biden's national lead over President Donald Trump nearly doubled after Tuesday's presidential debate, with voters saying by a 2-to-1 margin that Biden has the better temperament to be president, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Posted Updated

Mark Murray
, NBC News
CLEVELAND — Democrat Joe Biden’s national lead over President Donald Trump nearly doubled after Tuesday’s presidential debate, with voters saying by a 2-to-1 margin that Biden has the better temperament to be president, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

The poll was conducted in the two days after the unruly and insult-filled Sept. 29 debate, but before Trump tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized Friday at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Biden is now ahead of Trump by 14 points among registered voters, 53 percent to 39 percent – up from his 8-point lead in the previous poll before the debate.

That 14-point advantage represents Biden’s largest lead in the NBC News/WSJ poll during the entirety of the 2020 presidential campaign; his previous high was 11 points in July.

“The clear loser from the debate was Donald Trump,” said Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies.

“And at least for the short term, this has damaged his standing against Joe Biden,” Horwitt added.

But McInturff, the GOP pollster, cautions that the survey could represent a “shock to the system” right after a consequential debate. (Democrats, for instance, hold a 9-point advantage in party identification in this poll, compared with 5- to 6-point advantages in past ones.)

And as a result, McInturff believes that the race could return to the stable 8- to 9-point margin where it’s essentially been over the last several months – which is still a difficult place for an incumbent four weeks before Election Day.

The biggest declines for Trump in the poll after the debate come from seniors (who are now backing Biden by a 62 percent-to-35 percent margin) and suburban women (58 percent to 33 percent).

And men 50 years and older moved from a 13-point advantage for Trump in the pre-debate NBC News/WSJ poll, to a 1-point advantage for Biden in this latest poll.

Voters say Biden did a better job at the debate by 2-to-1 margin

Forty-nine percent of voters say Biden did a better job at Tuesday’s debate, which was marked by insults, interruptions, falsehoods and personal attacks – most, though not all, coming from the president.

That’s compared with 24 percent who say Trump had the better performance.

  • Another 17 percent say that neither did a better job at the debate.
  • Additionally, 19 percent of voters say they’re more likely to support Biden after the debate, versus 6 percent who say they’re more likely to back Trump.
  • The vast majority – 73 percent – say the debate made no difference in how they’d vote.

Among the 49 percent who say Biden did a better job, many voters cited Trump’s performance when asked to describe what they thought was important at the debate.

“Basically, last night was a snapshot of the last three and a half years. Not being able to say anything about white supremacists, being negative and being unpresidential,” said one respondent.

“I just think it was the same old Trump,” said another voter who thought Biden did a better job. “He was bullying.”

Even among the 24 percent who say Trump did the better job, the responses were as much about the president’s performance than Biden’s.

“I would say Donald Trump's admittance of not supporting white supremacists, telling the white supremacists to stand down, so to speak, by the moderator. The other important thing was Joe Biden's inability to form any coherent response,” said a voter who thought Trump did a better job.

“It’s Trump’s debate, not Biden’s debate,” said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, summing up those voter responses.

Biden’s presidential temperament advantage

The new NBC News/WSJ poll also finds Biden holding a whopping 32-point advantage on which candidate has the better temperament to be president, with 58 percent of voters picking Biden, versus 26 percent picking Trump.

That margin is greater than Biden’s advantages over Trump on handling race relations (29 points), health care (19 points) and the coronavirus (17 points).

Trump maintains his edge over Biden on better handling the economy, but that margin declined from 10 points before the debate (48 percent to 38 percent) to 7 points in the new poll (48 percent to 41 percent), though that change is within the margin of error.

Forty-three percent of registered voters approve of President Trump’s job performance in the new poll, which is down 2 points from the last NBC News/WSJ poll.

Fifty-five percent disapprove of Trump’s job, including 50 percent who say they strongly disapprove.

  • Trump’s favorability also dropped in the poll – from 41 percent positive/52 percent negative before the debate (-11), to 39 percent positive/55 percent negative now (-16).
  • Conversely, the poll shows Biden’s favorability rating increasing – from 43 percent positive/45 percent negative (-2), to 43 percent positive/41 percent negative after the debate (+2).

First numbers on Trump’s Supreme Court pick

Finally, the poll has numbers on the president’s pick to succeed the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett.

  • Thirty-five percent of registered voters say they support Barrett’s nomination, while 33 percent oppose it;
  • another 30 percent say they don’t know enough information about her.

Those findings are similar to the first NBC/WSJ numbers on Trump 2018 Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh, whom the U.S. Senate confirmed by a narrow 50-to-48 vote.

In a separate question, 50 percent of voters say they prefer the Senate to wait to fill the Supreme Court seat until there’s a winner in the upcoming presidential contest, while 38 percent want to vote before the election.

The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll was conducted Sept. 30-Oct. 1 among 800 registered voters – more than half of whom were reached by cell phone – and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.5 percentage points.


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