Poll: 6 in 10 US adults doubt both Biden and Trump’s mental prowess

President seen as most at risk, as independents more likely to be wary of his capabilities than GOP challenger’s, Dems more concerned for their candidate than are Republicans

This combination photo shows US President Joe Biden (left) leaving the White House in Washington, DC, on March 1, 2024. (SAUL LOEB / AFP); and former US president Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate, Palm Beach, Florida, March 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
This combination photo shows US President Joe Biden (left) leaving the White House in Washington, DC, on March 1, 2024. (SAUL LOEB / AFP); and former US president Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate, Palm Beach, Florida, March 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A poll finds that a significant share of US adults doubts the mental capabilities of 81-year-old President Joe Biden and 77-year-old Donald Trump, the former president and current Republican frontrunner in what could be a rematch of the 2020 election.

More than 6 in 10 (63 percent) say they are “not very” or “not at all” confident in Biden’s mental capability to serve effectively as president, turning his coming State of the Union address into something of a real-time audition for a second term. A similar but slightly smaller share (57%) say that Trump lacks the memory and acuity for the job.

The findings from a new survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research point to a tough presidential election in which issues such as age and mental competence could be more prevalent than in any other political contest in modern times.

People’s views of Biden’s memory and acuity have soured since January 2022, when about half of those polled expressed similar concerns. (That survey did not ask a similar question about Trump.)

In a major risk for Biden, independents are much more likely to say that they lack confidence in his mental abilities (80%) compared with Trump’s (56%). And Democrats are generally more concerned about Biden’s mental capabilities than Republicans are with Trump’s, raising the stakes of Biden’s upcoming speech to a joint session of Congress on Thursday.

Going into the big event, just 38% of US adults approve of how Biden is handling his job as president, while 61% disapprove. Democrats (74%) are much likelier than independents (20%) and Republicans (6%) to favor his performance. But there is broad discontent on the way Biden is handling a variety of issues, including the economy, immigration, and foreign policy.

US President Joe Biden delivers his 2023 State of the Union address during a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber of the US Capitol on February 7, 2023, in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer / Getty Images via AFP/ File)

About 4 in 10 Americans approve of the way Biden is handling each of these issues: health care, climate change, abortion policy, and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. But people are less satisfied with Biden’s handling of immigration (29%), the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians (31%), and the economy (34%) — all of which are likely to come up in the speech before a joint session of Congress.

Nearly 6 in 10 (57%) Americans think the national economy is somewhat or much worse off than before Biden took office in 2021. Only 3 in 10 adults say it is better under his leadership. Still, people are more optimistic about the state of their own bank accounts: 54% say their personal finances are good.

Many respondents to the survey were deeply pessimistic about their likely choices in November because of age and the risk of cognitive decline.

Paul Miller, himself 84, said Biden is just too old — and so is Trump.

“He doesn’t seem to have the mental whatever to be a president,” Miller said of Biden. He added that Trump is “too old, too, and half crazy.”

The retiree from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, said he voted for Trump in 2020, but he would not do so again.

“I don’t think I’m going to vote for either one of them,” he said. “I hope somebody else is available.”

Former president Donald Trump speaks at his Mar-a-Lago estate, March 4, 2024, in Palm Beach, Florida. (AP Photo/ Rebecca Blackwell)

The president faces added pressure about his age after unflattering descriptions of him contained in a special counsel’s report that did not recommend criminal prosecution of Biden for his mishandling of classified records, unlike Trump who was indicted for keeping classified material in his Florida home. The report said that Biden’s memory was “hazy,” “fuzzy,” “faulty,” “poor,” and had “significant limitations.”

Biden has tried to deflect concerns by joking about his age and taking jabs at Trump’s own gaffes. Yet the president’s age is a liability that has overshadowed his policy achievements on infrastructure, manufacturing, and addressing climate change.

About one-third of Democrats said they are “not very” or “not at all” confident in Biden’s mental capability in the new survey, up from 14% in January 2022. Only 40% of Democrats said they are “extremely” or “very confident” in Biden’s mental abilities, with approximately 3 in 10 saying they are “somewhat” confident.

Republicans are generally more comfortable with Trump’s mental capabilities than Democrats are with Biden’s. In the survey, 59% of Republicans are “extremely” or “very confident” that Trump has the mental abilities to be president. An additional 20% are somewhat confident, and 20% are not very or not at all confident.

But if there is one thing Democrats and Republicans can agree upon, it is that the other party’s likely nominee is not mentally up to the task. About 9 in 10 Republicans say Biden lacks the mental capability to serve as president, while a similar share of Democrats say that about Trump.

Part of Biden’s problem is that his policies have yet to break through the daily clutter of life.

US President Joe Biden signs an executive order at an event to celebrate Pride Month in the East Room of the White House, June 15, 2022 (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky/File)

Sharon Gallagher, 66, worries about inflation. She voted for Biden in 2020, but believes he has not done enough for the economy. She also feels Trump is a bit too quick to anger. The Sarasota, Florida, resident said she does not have the bandwidth to really judge their policies.

“I don’t pay enough attention to politics to even know,” Gallagher said. “I have grandchildren living with me and I have children’s shows on all day.”

Justin Tjernlund, 40, from Grand Rapids, Michigan, said Biden “seems like he’s mostly still there,” but even if he was in decline he has “a whole army of people to help him do the job.” Trjenlund said he voted for Trump in 2020 and plans to do so again because the Republican is “interesting” and “refreshing.”

Still, because of both candidates’ ages, Greg Olivo, 62, said he plans to focus on Vice President Kamala Harris and whomever Trump, if he is the nominee, picks for a running mate.

“Keep a close eye on the vice president,” said the machinist from Valley City, Ohio, who voted for Biden in 2020 and would do so again. “Because that person will probably be the president in four years, one way or another.”

The poll of 1,102 adults was conducted February 22-26, 2024, using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the US population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

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