As President Donald Trump and Former Vice President Joe Biden meet at Case Western Reserve University for the first of three general election debates, polls suggest Trump comes in with heightened expectations, a considerable reversal from 2016.
In a Redfield and Wilton poll, 51% of Trump supporters thought Trump would put in a 10 out of 10 performance, compared to 35% of Biden supporters who said the same of Biden, while a New York Times/Siena College poll found Trump favored by 2 points in the critical swing state of Pennsylvania.
Those numbers represent a new, more high-pressure playing field for Trump, who trailed his 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton by 10 points in a CNN/ORC poll on the expected winner ahead of their debates, even though her polling lead overall was narrower than Biden’s is now.
The inverted numbers may be partly a result of a Trump strategy of casting Biden as physically and mentally frail due to his advanced age, with the president and his allies pushing unproven allegations that Biden is unable to debate without cheating.
In the last few days, however, Trump’s campaign has sought to back-track on that framing, with aides claiming Biden prepared for weeks and Trump pointing to his 47 years in political life as evidence of his experience in debating and predicting he will win.
If that push moved the needle, it was only marginal; the latest numbers represent only slight narrowing from a USA Today/Suffolk poll earlier this month in which 47% of voters predicted Trump would win and 41% predicted Biden would.
“The ‘Biden is doping’ and ‘Biden might be wearing an ear piece’ nuttiness is only newsworthy in so far that Team Trump is planting excuses in case Trump has a poor debate tonight,” CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter said of the Trump campaign’s outlandish demands for drug testing and an earpiece screening before the debates, which he called “excuses that most people will ignore but Trump’s super-fans will embrace.”
74%. That’s the share of voters who said in a Monmouth University poll they plan to watch the debate, though the stakes are low, with just 13% saying they are likely to hear something that will impact their vote. Similarly, 73% of voters in a CBS News/YouGov poll said they plan to watch the debate to see how their favored candidate does, while just 6% say they will tune in because they are still deciding who to vote for.
What To Watch For
Biden may have little difficulty outperforming low expectations. The Trump campaign, for its part, is already bracing for that, claiming in a post on their website that “regardless of his performance, the media gives Biden positive reviews” and noting “the press lauded Biden for his 2008 performance.”