By overwhelming margins, voters in Pennsylvania and Florida were repelled by President Donald Trump’s conduct in the first general election debate, according to New York Times/Siena College surveys, as Joe Biden maintained a lead in the two largest battleground states.
Overall, Biden led by 7 percentage points, 49 to 42%, among likely voters in Pennsylvania. He led by a similar margin, 47-42%, among likely voters in Florida.
The surveys began Wednesday, before the announcement that Trump had contracted the coronavirus.
The debates long loomed as one of the president’s best opportunities to reshape the race in his favor. He has trailed in Pennsylvania and Florida from the outset of the campaign, and he does not have many credible paths to the presidency without winning at least one of the two — and probably both.
Instead, a mere 22% of likely voters across the two pivotal states said Trump won the debate Tuesday. It leaves the president at a significant and even daunting disadvantage with a month until Election Day.
In follow-up interviews with half a dozen mainly Republican respondents, some said the debate affected the way they were thinking about the election, with all but one using the word “bully” to describe the president.
Voters disapproved of the president’s conduct in the debate by a margin of 65 to 25%. More than half of voters said they strongly disapproved of his conduct.
“I think that Donald Trump acted like a big bully on the stage,” said Cindy Von Waldner, 63, a lifelong Republican from Titusville, Fla. The president began to lose her support when the pandemic hit, and she said she did not believe he took it seriously enough or was transparent enough with the American people. She said she would most likely vote for Biden, her first time casting a Democratic ballot.
The revulsion against Trump’s performance extended well into his reliable base. One-third of the president’s supporters said they disapproved of his performance, including 11% who did so strongly. A modest but potentially significant 8% of people who backed him in the survey said the debate made them less likely to support Trump’s candidacy.