CNN Polls: Trump leads Biden in Michigan and Georgia as broad majorities hold negative views of the current president

By Jennifer Agiesta and Ariel Edwards-Levy, CNN

CNN  —  Former President Donald Trump has the upper hand over President Joe Biden in two critical battleground states – Michigan and Georgia – with broad majorities in both states holding negative views of the sitting president’s job performance, policy positions and sharpness, according to new CNN polls conducted by SSRS.

In Georgia, a state Biden carried by a very narrow margin in 2020, registered voters say they prefer Trump (49 percent) over Biden (44 percent) for the presidency in a two-way hypothetical matchup. In Michigan, which Biden won by a wider margin, Trump has 50 percent support to Biden’s 40 percent, with 10 percent saying they wouldn’t support either candidate even after being asked which way they lean. In both Michigan and Georgia, the share of voters who say they wouldn’t support either candidate is at least as large as the margin between Biden and Trump.

The two most recent occupants of the White House appear to be the most likely nominees for their respective parties in next year’s presidential election, with Biden’s primary challengers largely lacking traction in polling on Democrats’ preferences, and Trump well ahead of his GOP rivals in nearly all polling – including these surveys – on the nomination race.

Trump’s margin over Biden in the hypothetical matchup is significantly boosted by support from voters who say they did not cast a ballot in 2020, with these voters breaking in Trump’s favor by 26 points in Georgia and 40 points in Michigan. Those who report having voted in 2020 say they broke for Biden over Trump in that election, but as of now, they tilt in Trump’s favor for 2024 in both states, with Biden holding on to fewer of his 2020 backers than does Trump.

Those numbers hint at possible challenges for both candidates in the long campaign ahead. Trump’s advantage rests on the assumption that he can both maintain support among a fickle, politically disengaged group and convince them to actually vote, while Biden will need to win back the support of disaffected former backers who show little excitement about his reelection bid.

Biden’s struggles in both states are apparent in voters’ impressions of his performance as president, and their views on how his policy positions, ability to understand their problems, stamina and sharpness fail to live up to their image of an ideal president.

Overall, just 35 percent in Michigan and 39 percent in Georgia approve of Biden’s job performance, the surveys find, and majorities in both states say his policies have worsened economic conditions in the country (54 percent in Georgia, 56 percent in Michigan).

Those grim numbers partially reflect softness among his base: About one-quarter of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters in each state disapprove of Biden, and a little more than 4 in 10 say his policies have not helped the country’s economy. Biden’s campaign is working to sell voters on the success of his economic agenda, with a recently launched ad in Michigan focused on small businesses and the middle class.

The poll also finds little consensus among voters in both states on America’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war, an issue that has caused a rift within the Democratic Party, with more progressive and younger Democrats pressing Biden to call for a ceasefire. Overall, about 4 in 10 in each state say the US is doing the right amount to help Israel, with about a third saying the US is doing too much and roughly a quarter too little. About half of voters younger than 35 in both states, though, say the US is doing too much (49 percent in Michigan, 46 percent in Georgia), more than 20 points higher than the share of those age 50 or older (23 percent in both states).

More trouble spots for Biden with young voters

Most voters in both states say Biden, who’s 81, does not have the attributes they’re looking for in a president when it comes to his policy positions (57 percent in Michigan, 56 percent in Georgia), his ability to understand the problems of people like them (60 percent in Michigan, 56 percent in Georgia) or his sharpness and stamina (69 percent in Michigan, 66 percent in Georgia).

Fewer in each state say that Trump, who’s 77, falls short of their expectations for a president on those same measures. But Trump fares worse than Biden on temperament – 57 percent in Michigan and 58 percent in Georgia say the former president doesn’t have the temperament they’re looking for, compared with about half who say the same about Biden.

Even among those who say they support Biden or Trump in a 2024 matchup, there are doubts about each candidate. Fewer than a third of Biden’s supporters in each state describe him as exactly what they’re looking for in terms of policy positions, ability to understand their problems, or sharpness and stamina, with fewer than half saying the same of his temperament. But those Biden supporters overwhelmingly say Trump does not have the qualities they’re seeking. Trump supporters are similarly negative about Biden; roughly half or more describe Trump as their ideal candidate in terms of policy, understanding their problems, and sharpness and stamina, although only 29 percent in Michigan and 34 percent in Georgia see his temperament as ideal.

Younger voters in both states are particularly unlikely to see Biden as aligning with their vision of a president, with only 9 percent of voters younger than 45 saying he is exactly what they’d like to see in a president in terms of policy positions, and only 11 percent in Georgia and 9 percent in Michigan saying he is exactly what they want in terms of his ability to understand the problems of people like them. Younger voters in both states break in Trump’s favor in a hypothetical matchup (50 percent to 40 percent among voters younger than 45 in Georgia, 49 percent to 38 percent in Michigan). That’s at least in part due to defections among Democratic-aligned younger voters. In both states, Biden carries more than 90 percent of the vote among Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters who are age 45 or older. But he holds just 78 percent support among younger Democratic-aligned voters in Michigan and 80 percent among that group in Georgia.

Georgia voters largely approve of the charges brought against Trump in the state’s Fulton County case over 2020 election interference (52 percent approve and 47 percent disapprove), with 47 percent saying that, if true, those charges should disqualify Trump from the presidency, and another 14 percent seeing them as casting doubts on his fitness for the job should they prove true. A similar share of Michigan voters, 46 percent, say that the criminal charges Trump faces relating to efforts to overturn the last presidential election are disqualifying if true, with an additional 14 percent saying they would, at a minimum, cast doubts on his fitness for the job.

Likely GOP primary voters, though, mostly say that even if true, the criminal charges Trump is facing related to efforts to overturn the 2020 election are not relevant to his fitness for the presidency (64 percent in Michigan and 70 percent in Georgia feel that way). So do most of those who say they’d support Trump in a general election, although in both states, 27 percent of those who back Trump against Biden say that a Trump conviction would cast at least some doubts on his fitness to retake the Oval Office.

Haley in tight race for second place in GOP primary but holds wider lead over Biden in hypothetical matchup

Michigan will hold presidential primaries on February 27, while Georgia’s primaries are set for March 12. Trump’s lead among likely GOP primary voters in each state mirrors his performance in primary polling nationally, with 58 percent in Michigan and 55 percent in Georgia saying he’s their first choice for the nomination. Behind him, there’s a tight race for a distant second, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at 15 percent and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley at 13 percent in Michigan, and the two tied at 17 percent in Georgia. All other GOP candidates tested in the polls held single-digit support.

It is possible the GOP field could narrow after the first contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, and in both of the states polled, hypothetical one-on-one matchups with either DeSantis or Haley find Trump expanding his majority support rather than a tightened race.

Likely GOP primary voters in both states express few concerns about Trump’s electability: Sixty-six percent of likely GOP voters in Michigan, and 65 percent in Georgia, say they think Trump is the candidate with the best shot of winning their state next November, with nearly all his supporters, as well as a significant minority of those not backing him, considering him the most electable.

In hypothetical general election matchups with Haley, Biden trails among registered voters in both states, 49 percent Haley to 43 percent Biden in Georgia, and 50 percent Haley to 38 percent Biden in Michigan. Against DeSantis, Biden trails in Michigan (49 percent DeSantis to 42 percent Biden), but fares better in Georgia, with the president holding 48 percent to DeSantis’s 45 percent and no clear leader between the two.

When two third-party or independent candidates, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cornel West, are mentioned by name in a potential matchup against Biden and Trump, Trump maintains a lead over Biden, slightly widening his margin to 8 points in Georgia while narrowing his advantage to 8 points in Michigan. Kennedy and West take a collective 26 percent in Michigan and 21 percent in Georgia – with the bulk of that support going to Kennedy (20 percent in Michigan and 15 percent in Georgia) – a finding that likely overstates the share of solid support for a challenger outside the main two parties, but nevertheless highlights the degree of dissatisfaction with the two leading candidates.

Voters side with Democrats on abortion, while GOP enjoys enthusiasm advantage

Considering three issues likely to be touchpoints throughout the 2024 campaign, voters in both states side with Democrats over Republicans on abortion, while saying they are closer to the GOP on immigration. Michigan voters are closely split on which party they align more with when it comes to protecting democracy in America, while Georgia voters give Democrats a 4-point edge on that issue. Across both states, roughly one-quarter of voters say they trust neither party on each issue.

About 7 in 10 registered voters in Michigan, and a similar 68 percent in Georgia, say they’re at least somewhat confident that votes in their state will be accurately cast and counted in next year’s election. And looking back, roughly 6 in 10 voters in each state say that Biden legitimately won enough votes to win the presidency in 2020 (63 percent in Georgia, 61 percent in Michigan). Among Republican-aligned voters in each state, however, about two-thirds express doubt that Biden legitimately won the presidency. There is no evidence of election fraud that would have altered the outcome of the contest.

Trump’s primary supporters stand out for their mistrust of the election system. Eight in 10 or more in each state baselessly say that Biden did not legitimately win enough votes to win the presidency in 2020, a view held by only about one-third of likely GOP primary voters not backing him in each state. And more than half of Trump primary supporters say they have little or no confidence that votes next year will be accurately cast and counted in their state, a concern shared by relatively few other likely GOP primary voters.

Overall, 61 percent of registered voters in Georgia and 57 percent in Michigan describe themselves as extremely motivated to participate in next year’s election. In Michigan, there’s a relatively modest partisan enthusiasm gap, with Republican-aligned voters 5 points likelier than Democratic-aligned voters to call themselves extremely motivated, while in Georgia, that GOP edge is a more substantial 13 points.

Just over half (53 percent) of registered voters in Michigan say they’re satisfied with the candidates they have to choose from. Georgia voters are more content: Sixty-two percent describe themselves as satisfied. In both states, Republican-aligned voters are significantly more likely than Democratic-aligned voters to say they are satisfied with their choices.

These CNN polls were conducted online and by telephone by SSRS. In Michigan, a random sample of 1,197 registered voters was surveyed from November 29 to December 6, and in Georgia, a random sample of 1,068 registered voters was surveyed from November 30 to December 7. The surveys included oversamples of likely Republican primary voters and younger voters in order to better assess views among those groups. Results among the oversampled groups have been weighted so that they reflect their actual share of all registered voters within the overall results. Results for the full sample in Michigan have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points; it is 3.3 points for results in Georgia.

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