Both President Biden and former President Trump have taken their lumps recently. In Biden’s case, it’s his failing mental acuity, age and allegations of corruption in office. For Trump, it’s an unprecedented slew of criminal indictments. Disaster? Hardly. Both candidates still hold big leads over likely challengers, the latest I&I/TIPP Poll shows.
In Trump’s case, he has widened his lead. In the latest online national poll, taken from among 509 Republican voters from Aug. 30-Sept. 1, we again asked: “If the Republican presidential primary were held today, whom would you support for the nomination?” The GOP poll has a margin of error of +/-4.4 percentage points.
Among Republican respondents, 60% answered former President Donald Trump, while support for No. 2, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was 11%, and for No. 3, entrepreneur and author Vivek Ramaswamy, came in at 9%.
They were followed by Trump’s former vice president, Mike Pence (6%), former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (3%), and a long list of other challengers at 1% or less including South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, conservative commentator and talk-show host Larry Elder, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchison, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, and former Texas Congressman William Hurd.
What’s surprising is that the worse the news for Trump, now with four indictments and counting, the stronger his support gets. In June, Trump got a hefty 55%, followed by 53% in July and 57% in August.
Among potential challengers, only Ramaswamy, a virtual unknown when he announced in February, has made a significant move from just 1% as recently as April to 9% now. Well-spoken and a tireless debater, Ramaswamy has risen as others have fallen.
Even so, Trump’s 49-point lead on DeSantis is the highest yet. There is little doubt that if the primaries were held in the coming weeks, Trump would win in a landslide. As recently as March of this year, Trump led his main challenger DeSantis by 51% to 22%, a 29-point gap.
The poll also tested the electability of Republican contenders to determine who had the best chance of defeating President Biden in the 2024 presidential election. Trump led in “electability” with 56% of Republicans, followed by DeSantis (13%) and Ramaswamy (8%).
President Biden, though he remains solidly in front of potential challengers with 38% support from the 606 Democrats that answered the I&I/TIPP Poll.
In September, none of the list of potential challengers had double-digit support against Biden with Democratic voters. After Biden at 38%, it’s former First Lady Michelle Obama (9%), current Vice President Kamala Harris (7%), Vermont Democratic Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (6%), former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (5%), environmental author and lawyer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and California Gov. Gavin Newsom (4%).
“Someone else,” at 3%, received the same support as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (3%). After them, a trailing line of eight other potential challengers received 2% support or less.
So why the sudden stasis in the numbers, despite the steady drumbeat of bad news around both parties’ leaders?
For Trump, there seems to be a growing recognition, especially among GOP voters, that there’s a strong political motivation behind the flood of indictments in recent months. If anything, that seems to have bolstered Trump’s support, as the I&I/TIPP Poll clearly shows.
With all his potential challengers running far behind in polls, some have begun to wonder if the GOP primary is actually a “Potemkin primary” — with a handful of candidates, knowing they’re not moving the needle against Trump, setting up future challenges for 2028.
In 2016, “Trump horrified GOP leaders with his attacks and refusal to commit to backing the party standard bearer, but the voters were unbothered,” wrote Politico columnist Jonathan Martin. “Today, most all of Trump’s opponents vow to support him as the nominee, even as a convicted felon, because they’re worried if they don’t, those same voters will very much be bothered.”
But will Trump, who now faces four indictments and 91 felony charges, be able to win a general election? The August I&I/TIPP Poll found that 51% of voters believe the charges against Trump “seem legitimate and should be pursued,” while 39% called the charges either “political harassment” or “exaggerated.”
Even so, right now, recent polls show Biden and Trump running pretty much neck-and-neck. Given Trump’s troubles, how can this be?
Biden has a number of problems, starting with his age, but growing evidence of corruption in office has started to hurt him badly. In recent I&I/TIPP Polls, 56% said they believe Biden “likely” took bribes in office, while a majority also said that, if so, he should resign or be impeached immediately.
And his recent poll readings have been abysmal. Democratic Party pollster John Zogby recently gave Biden an “F” grade for his early September performance.
“This was a catastrophic week for President Joe Biden due in large part to a new CNN poll out on Wednesday,” Zogby wrote. “Not only is overall job approval at 39%, but 58% of those polled said that things are actually worse since he has been in office.”
Even the New York Times was prompted to run an op-ed asking plaintively, “Why Is Joe Biden So Unpopular?”
One troubling answer for Democrats: Biden seems to be losing support among minority and young voters, and even supporters show a lack of enthusiasm for 2024.
A late-August CNN/SSRS poll, based on 1,503 adults, showed alarming results for Democrats: Not only did Biden have a rock-bottom approval rating of 39%, but fully 67% of Democrats and those leaning toward voting Democratic want the party to nominate someone else next year.
Recent polls show Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and entrepreneur/author Vivek Ramaswamy running roughly tied with Biden, while moderate GOP candidates do better in head-to-head comparisons with Biden. Four Republican candidates have a solid lead over Biden: Nikki Haley, with a six point edge, followed by Pence, Christie and Scott at two points above Biden.
So how will the 2024 election be decided? One possible answer: Independents.
As the I&I/TIPP Poll shows, Trump has the support of 54% of all Republican-leaning independent voters, while Biden takes in just 25%. That’s a large enthusiasm gap that will be difficult for Democrats to close.
With independents making up as much as a third of the entire electorate, those voters are the big question mark, as recent history shows. In 2016, both Trump and Hillary Clinton won 88% of their parties’ votes. But Trump had a 46%-42% edge over Clinton on independents.
Will disgruntled independent voters stay at home? Or will they vote for Trump or Biden? The 2024 election might very well be decided by the answer to those questions.
I&I/TIPP publishes timely, unique, and informative data each month on topics of public interest. TIPP’s reputation for polling excellence comes from being the most accurate pollster for the past five presidential elections.
Terry Jones is an editor of Issues & Insights. His four decades of journalism experience include serving as national issues editor, economics editor, and editorial page editor for Investor’s Business Daily.