In a striking expression of the profound pessimism and polarization currently afflicting U.S. politics — as well as a growing aversion to both parties’ presidential front-runners — a plurality of registered voters now say it would be “the worst thing that could happen” if either President Biden (39%) or former President Donald Trump (41%) were to win the White House again in 2024, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll.
Only about half as many voters say a second Trump term would be “the best thing that could happen” (22%). A mere 8% say the same about a second Biden term.
Respondents were also given a chance to say that either president’s reelection would be “mostly bad,” “mostly good,” “a mix of good and bad” or “I’m not sure.”
More chose “the worst thing that could happen” than any other option.
The survey of 1,557 U.S. adults, which was conducted from July 28 to Aug. 1, is just the latest in a series of dismal readings of the national mood — but it may be the bleakest yet.
That’s particularly true when it comes to public perceptions of Biden.
Over the last three weeks, the president’s job approval rating has declined another three points, from 38% to 35%, a new low. Even fewer Americans approve of the job he is doing on the economy (30%) and inflation (26%). Overall, only 26% of Americans think Biden is “up to the challenges facing the U.S.,” including just 17% of independents and an anemic 54% of Democrats.
Most Americans also think Biden is either “changing too much about America” (30%) or “not changing it enough” (35%). Only 15% say Biden is changing the United States by “the right amount.”
Asked whether the president should even run again in 2024, only 18% of Americans say yes — including a mere 29% of those who voted for him in 2020. Far more of Biden’s own voters (46%) say he should not. Why? A plurality of them (37%) say he would be a “weaker” candidate in 2024 than he was in 2020.
At 79, Biden is already the oldest president in U.S. history; he would be 86 at the end of his second term.
Regardless, Biden continues to insist that he is running for reelection — and though various Democratic leaders appear to be testing the 2024 waters, none have indicated that they will directly challenge the incumbent president in a primary. Yet a full 55% of Democrats and independents who lean Democratic now say they would rather see “someone else” as the party’s 2024 nominee. That is twice the number who say they would rather see Biden as the nominee (27%).
Who else would Democrats prefer? Not Vice President Kamala Harris, who unsuccessfully sought the 2020 nomination. Assuming Biden doesn’t run in 2024, just 30% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they want Harris to be the nominee. Again, most (52%) say someone else — a number that rises to 55% among those who are actually registered to vote.
At first, the marginally younger 76-year-old Trump may appear to be better positioned for another presidential bid — but that’s only because Republicans are less willing than Democrats to disparage their own party’s standard bearer. For instance, when asked what the result would be for America “if Joe Biden and Donald Trump run against each other for president again in 2024,” nearly half of Biden voters (49%) say a rematch would be “mostly bad” or “the worst thing that could happen”; just 10% think it would be mostly good or the best possible thing. In contrast, a plurality of Trump voters (44%) think a Trump-Biden rematch would be mostly good or the best possible thing, while just 21% think it would be mostly bad or the worst possible thing.
By the same token, 2020 Trump voters are nearly twice as likely as Biden voters (29%) to say their guy should run again in 2024 (54%). The reason: They’re simply far more confident in Trump’s strength as a candidate, with just 18% saying the former president would be weaker in 2024 than he was in 2020 — and a full 53% saying he would be the party’s strongest candidate next time around. Put another way, Trump voters (58%) are nearly three times as likely as Biden voters (22%) to say their party’s leading presidential contender would be stronger in 2024 than he was four years earlier.
That said, the new poll does contain several warning signs for Trump. For one thing, he continues to trail Biden 45% to 42% in a head-to-head matchup among registered voters — despite Biden’s glaring vulnerabilities. For another, fully half the country (50%) now says — in the wake of the House select committee’s high-profile Jan. 6 hearings — that Trump should not even be allowed to serve as president again, due to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. And even though Trump voters are not openly disparaging their party’s leader in the way Biden voters are, they are hardly unanimous in their support for him.
Case in point: While a narrow majority (again, 53%) of Trump voters do still say he would be the GOP’s strongest candidate in 2024, that means that nearly as many of them say either that he would not be the strongest candidate (21%) or that they’re not sure (26%). Likewise, when given a choice, most Republicans and Republican-leaning independents don’t actually say they want Trump to be the 2024 nominee. Against “someone else,” for instance, just 48% choose Trump, while most either select the unnamed alternative (39%) or say they’re not sure (13%). Against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (35%), even fewer pick Trump (44%); more say they’re not sure (20%).
The latest Yahoo News/YouGov poll went into the field immediately after Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., announced their big climate, tax and prescription drug deal; it concluded before the White House announced earlier this week that a U.S. drone strike had killed the al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri. It is impossible to say how much of this positive news for the president’s party — if any — is reflected in the latest survey results, or whether it will sway future responses.
Yet partisanship is now so entrenched — and views of the economy so pessimistic — that it’s hard to foresee any sudden, major swings in public opinion. A majority of Americans (53%) say the country is already in recession, for instance, with an additional 16% saying we’re “heading” that way. As a result, a full 81% of Americans now describe the U.S. economy as either “fair” or “poor,” compared to only 70% in mid-April.
Last week, this sense of bipartisan discontent inspired a group of centrist politicians to launch a project called Forward, which they described as a “unifying political party for the majority of Americans who want to move past divisiveness and reject extremism.”
According to the new Yahoo News/YouGov poll, that message could resonate with some Americans — even though the America’s Electoral College and tradition of winner-takes-all elections make it nearly impossible for third parties to get any traction. Just 16% of Americans agree that they’re “well represented by the Democratic and Republican parties,” while 40% choose the alternative statement: “America needs a new political party that’s positioned in the political center between the Democrats and Republicans.”
Similarly, 40% “want the option to vote for a third-party candidate for president in 2024 who is positioned in the political center between the Democrats and Republicans” — including 55% of independents, 53% of political moderates, 40% of Biden voters and 40% of Trump voters. Asked to describe the priorities of elected officials, 37% of Americans say Democratic priorities are “too extreme”; 40% say the same about Republican priorities.
Those numbers would seem to suggest that about 4 in 10 Americans are ready to vote for a third-party centrist in 2024. But that’s misleading. For the most part, Americans who say Democrats are too extreme are not the same Americans who say Republicans are too extreme; rather, they are partisans who think the other side is the problem. In reality, actual centrists — those who dismiss both Republicans and Democrats as too extreme — are few and far between. According to the poll, just 8% of Americans fit the bill.
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,557 U.S. adults interviewed online from July 28 to Aug. 1, 2022. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or nonvote) and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.7%.