LOS ANGELES – With three weeks left until election day, President Trump has not recovered from the self-inflicted wounds of his first debate with Joe Biden and, instead, has sunk farther behind his challenger, a new USC Dornsife poll shows.
The latest data show the unusual extent to which the Sept. 29 debate continues to shape the campaign’s final stretch, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The encounter in Cleveland, dominated by Trump’s repeated interruptions and his cryptic statement that seemingly welcomed a right-wing extremist group, appears to be the exception to the usual rule that the impact of debates fades quickly, according to The Times.
The damage the debate did to Trump’s standing has persisted through his bout with COVID-19, leaving him with a deep deficit and little time to recover. Before the September debate, voters had relatively tepid expectations for how either candidate would do. Trump significantly underperformed those, The Times reported.
On a 0-to-100 scale, Trump’s performance in the debate came in 18 points below what voters had expected, a comparison of those surveyed before and since the debate shows. Independents who lean toward the GOP — a key bloc of potential swing voters — reported the most disappointment. Their rating of Trump’s performance came in 24 points below their pre-debate expectations, the poll found, according to The Times.
Biden’ performance was closer to expectations.
Trump also lost ground, and Biden gained, on the question of which candidate is more mentally fit for the presidency. The former vice president’ advantage on that question grew from 12 points before the debate to 19 points since then.
Since the debate, roughly half the voters polled said they do not believe Trump is mentally fit.
Voters’ view of both Biden’s mental and physical fitness improved after the debate, something Democratic operatives had hoped to see after Trump, 74, and his allies spent much of the spring and summer pushing to portray the 77- year-old former vice president as doddering.
The overall impact has been to swell Biden’s lead. The USC Dornsife poll tracks the race each day, using a 14-day rolling average. As pre-debate interviews have cycled out of that average, Biden’s lead has climbed steadily from 9 points on the day of the debate to 13 points as of Tuesday — 54% to 41%.