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Most Americans plan to watch Biden-Trump debate, and many see high stakes, poll finds

The poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed 6 in 10 U.S. adults say they'll likely watch the debate.
Former President Donald Trump, left, and President Joe Biden during a previous debate.
Posted at 9:04 PM, Jun 26, 2024

Most U.S. adults plan to watch some element of Thursday's presidential debate, and many think the event will be important for the campaigns of both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Both men remain broadly unpopular as they prepare to face off for the first time since 2020, although Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, maintains a modest enthusiasm advantage with his base compared to President Biden, the Democratic incumbent.

About 6 in 10 U.S. adults say they are "extremely" or "very" likely to watch the debate live or in clips, or read about or listen to commentary about the performance of the candidates in the news or social media.

Related: How to watch the first presidential debate of 2024

The poll suggests tens of millions of Americans are likely to see or hear about at least part of Thursday's debate despite how unusually early it comes in the campaign season. Both Biden and Trump supporters view the debate as a major test for their candidate — or just a spectacle not to miss.

"I think it's super important," said Victoria Perdomo, a 44-year-old stay-at-home mom and a Trump supporter in Coral Springs, Florida. "It shows America what you're going to see for the next four years."

Nic Greene, a libertarian who is a registered independent, said he'll likely vote for Trump as the "least worst candidate." He doesn't think debates do much to help voters make decisions, but he's expecting to be entertained and plans to listen to post-debate analysis on podcasts.

"I think the majority of people have their minds made up with or without these debates," he said. "It's a circus."

Both sides see the debate as important

About half, 47%, of Americans say the debate is "extremely" or "very" important for the success of Biden's campaign and about 4 in 10 say it's highly important for Trump's campaign. About 3 in 10 Americans say it is at least "very" important for both campaigns.

Most Democrats, 55%, think the upcoming debate is extremely or very important for the success of the Biden campaign. About half of Republicans, 51%, say the same thing about the importance of the debate for the Trump campaign. Only about one-third of independents say the debate, taking place at a CNN studio in Atlanta, is highly important for either campaign.

Arthur Morris, a 40-year-old operations manager at a major financial firm, is an undecided voter open to President Biden, Trump or a third-party option such as independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. He, along with a significant share of Americans, has doubts about the mental capabilities of the aging candidates, and sees President Biden's debate performance as an important test.

"I need Biden to demonstrate to me that he's cogent enough to be able to hold this office and execute to the level that we need him to," Morris said.

Trump, meanwhile, needs to show he can be trusted after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol in which Trump supporters disrupted the certification of his 2020 loss to Biden and Trump's recent conviction in a hush money scheme, said Morris, of Lewiston, Ohio.

About 4 in 10 say they are likely to watch or listen to some or all of the debate live, while a similar share say they will watch or listen to clips later. Another 4 in 10, roughly, expect to consume commentary about the debate and candidate performance in the news or on social media. Republicans and Democrats are more likely than independents to be following debate coverage in some capacity.

Voters are still unhappy about their options

President Biden and Trump are each entering the debate with low favorability ratings. About 6 in 10 U.S. adults say they have a very or somewhat unfavorable view of President Biden, and a similar number have a negative view of Trump.

Most Americans, 56%, say they are "very" or "somewhat" dissatisfied with President Biden being the Democratic Party's likely nominee for president, and a similar majority are dissatisfied with Trump as the likely GOP nominee. The poll indicates that Republicans continue to be more satisfied with a re-nomination of Trump than Democrats are with an anticipated Biden re-nomination. Six in 10 Republicans are satisfied with Trump as a nominee; just 42% of Democrats say that about President Biden.

About 3 in 10 U.S. adults are dissatisfied with both Trump and President Biden as their party's likely nominees — with independents and Democrats being more likely than Republicans to be dissatisfied with both.

Republicans and Democrats are more likely to have a negative view of the opposing party's candidate than they are to have a positive view of their own.

Related: Candidates make preparations for first presidential debate of 2024

About 9 in 10 Republicans have an unfavorable view of President Biden, and about 9 in 10 Democrats have a negative view of Trump. By comparison, roughly 7 in 10 Democrats have a favorable view of President Biden, and about 7 in 10 Republicans have a positive view of Trump.

About 4 in 10 U.S. adults approve of how President Biden is handling his job as president, in line with where that number has stood for the past two years. President Biden's approval rating among U.S. adults on handling the economy is similar, as is his handling of abortion policy. Only 3 in 10 approve of his approach to immigration.

"I do believe there has been some progress under Biden, but I believe it's Congress who is the one stalling on any of the policies that Biden wants to proceed with," said Jane Quan-Bell, 70, a school librarian from Chico, California, and a Democrat.

The conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is an especially vulnerable spot for President Biden. With only 26% of U.S. adults approving of his handling of the issue, it's well below his overall approval rating. Nearly 6 in 10 Democrats disapprove of his approach.

The poll of 1,088 adults was conducted June 20-24, 2024, using a sample drawn from NORC's probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.0 percentage points.