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The survey of 1,584 U.S. adults, which was conducted from Nov. 9 to 13, also shows that a clear majority of them now share concerns over Biden’s age and competence that were once largely limited to partisan opponents, suggesting an uphill battle ahead for the 80-year-old president as he seeks a second term.
The trend lines are stark. Today, a full 54% of Americans say that Biden, the oldest Oval Office occupant in U.S. history, no longer has “the competence to carry out the job of president,” up from 41% in June 2020 and 49% as recently as February of this year.
Meanwhile, less than a third of Americans (31%) still think Biden, who turns 81 next week, is competent. In August 2021 — seven months into his presidency — that number was 15 points higher (46%), and just since February it has fallen an additional 4 points (from 35%).
Worries over the president’s “health and mental acuity” have followed a similar arc. In June 2020, most Americans (52%) said they were “slightly concerned” or “not concerned” about the issue, while fewer (48%) said they were “somewhat concerned” or very concerned.”
But now, a mere 36% say they are slightly concerned or not concerned — and 64% say they are somewhat concerned or very concerned.
The deeper dynamics driving views of Biden’s age
To counter such fears, Biden’s supporters often note that his likely opponent, the 77-year-old Trump, is only three and a half years his junior, and that the Democrat’s busy schedule and substantive list of accomplishments contradict the Republican caricature of a hapless senior citizen.
The problem, however, is that the public isn’t buying their argument — at least not yet. More Americans say Trump is “fit to be president” (38%) than say the same about Biden (24%, down from 27% in September).
And a full 80% now say Biden’s age is at least a small problem, up from 77% in September — while 55% say it’s a large problem (up from 52%).
To test the deeper dynamics influencing perceptions of age and competence, Yahoo News and YouGov asked respondents how much they have “heard in the media” about various political stories “over the last few years.”
Unfortunately for Biden, less than a quarter of Americans have “heard a lot” about his signature legislative achievements: “Congress passing a law that will enable Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices” (23%); “Congress passing infrastructure investments in 2021” (20%); “Congress passing climate and clean-energy investments in 2022” (18%); and “Congress passing a gun safety law in 2022” (14%).
It’s not particularly surprising, then, that just under a quarter of Americans (24%) think Biden has accomplished “a lot” as president.
How Trump compares
The split screen with Trump is telling here. Despite being the second-oldest president in U.S. history — and despite 40% of Americans saying they’ve heard a lot about his verbal gaffes as well — the Republican has suffered almost no rise in worries about his competence or age since 2020.
Right now, 43% of Americans say Trump has the competence to carry out the job of president, and less than half (44%) say they are concerned about his health and mental acuity. In the summer of 2020, those numbers were 44% and 46%, respectively.
At the same time, 39% of Americans think Trump accomplished a lot as president — 15 points higher than Biden’s rating on the same question.
Pundits and historians can debate the reality of the two presidents’ respective résumés. But what the new Yahoo News/YouGov poll reveals is that perceptions of agency — which are inevitably tied up with impressions of age and vigor — have shaped these dueling views of the Biden and Trump White Houses.
What it means for 2024
Asked whether the two leaders have been “mostly in charge” or “mostly passive” as president, a full 58% of Americans say Trump was mostly in charge, versus just 19% who say he was mostly passive.
For Biden, those numbers are nearly reversed, with 28% saying he’s been mostly in charge and 54% — again, a majority — saying he’s been mostly passive.
Of all the findings in the poll, this might be the most troubling for Biden. For one thing, it hints at why voters worry about his age: because for them, it’s linked to his ability to exercise presidential power. It also implies that voters could prove more reluctant than in the past to reward the president for, say, improvements in the economy between now and next November (since they don’t believe he’s really “in charge”).
Making matters worse, such views may be especially entrenched among the voters most likely to decide the 2024 election — namely, independents and lower-engagement “swing voters” who didn’t turn out for the 2022 midterms, when more tuned-in Democrats dominated the electorate.
Just 22% of independents, for instance, think Biden is competent; 69% are concerned about his health and mental acuity; and 62% think he’s been mostly passive.
Among registered voters who didn’t vote in 2022, those numbers are almost identical: 22%, 69% and 60%, respectively.
For those who don’t closely follow politics, the image of an aging president is easy to absorb; his accomplishments, less so. Partly as a result, Biden and Trump are currently tied at 44% apiece among registered voters who did turn out in 2022 — while Biden trails Trump 33% to 41% among those who didn’t vote in the midterms.
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,584 U.S. adults interviewed online from Nov. 9 to 13, 2023. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to Nov. 1, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 27% Republican). Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.8%.