Grinnell College National Poll Shows Biden and Trump in a Dead Heat

More Americans Say Democracy is Under Threat, Majority Support Constitutional Reforms

October 19, 2023

Watch the Media Briefing for Fall 2023 Grinnell College National Poll Release.

The newest Grinnell College National Poll shows President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump in a dead heat among likely voters if the 2024 general election was held today. In a poll conducted in collaboration with renowned Iowa pollster J. Ann Selzer, both Biden and Trump, running as their party’s candidate, would attract 40% of likely voters — but 18% say they would vote for someone else. The Biden-Trump vote splits along partisan lines. Independents divide, but tilt toward Trump (35% vs. 32% for Biden), with 30% saying they would vote for someone else.

Graph showing an even split for support for Trump and Biden in next election as shown in poll results

Biden carries the majority among voters with no religious affiliation (56%), those in the Northeast (52%), and suburban women (54%). Trump prevails among rural voters (55%), self-identified evangelicals (55%) and Protestants (50%).

“We find President Biden and former President Trump are tied in a prospective 2024 race, but many voters aren’t yet sold on either candidate,” said Peter Hanson, Ph.D., director of the Grinnell College National Poll and associate professor of political science. “Nearly one in five likely voters say they will vote for someone else. The size of this undecided group and its unpredictability adds a lot of uncertainty to the election outlook.”

Majority Disapproves of Biden’s Job Performance

President Biden’s approval rating comes in at 38%, the second-best showing in Grinnell College National Poll history, but a majority (53%) still disapprove of his job performance. Four in five self-identified Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents approve (80%) with 14% disapproving. Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, 90% disapprove, with 6% approving.

On specific elements of the job, Biden fares slightly less well, with just 37% approving of his relationships with Republicans in Congress, 36% approving of his handling of the economy, and 32% approving of his control over U.S. borders.

Graph showing majority disapprove of the way Biden is handling the borders, economy, and relationship with Republicans

Common GOP Election Issues Less Impactful, but Personal Safety a Concern

Respondents aren’t as split on key campaign issues as they are on candidates. A plurality of 47% say they are less likely to favor candidates advocating a national abortion ban and a plurality of 46% are less likely to vote for those backing a ban on gender-affirming medical treatment for minors. At the same time, a plurality of 42% are more likely to vote for candidates on the side of forgiving student loans and a plurality of 41% for those supporting continued military aid to Ukraine.

Graph showing plurality support for forgiving student loans, continuing military aid to Ukraine, and banning assault rifles, lack of support for banning abortion or gender affirming treatment for minors

Public safety is a pressing concern for respondents. Half of those surveyed agree that people in their area have never felt more fearful for their safety. Majorities of 2020 Trump voters (62%), Republicans (58%), and those identifying as evangelical (64%) strongly or mostly agree, in contrast with 42% of 2020 Biden voters and 44% of Democrats.

Majority Think American Democracy Under Major Threat

A majority of respondents say they think American democracy is under a major threat, a five-percentage-point increase from two years ago. Republicans are still more likely than Democrats and independents to say they think that democracy is threatened, but the percentage of Democrats who agree with the statement is up sharply. “The upward shift among Democrats is just short of seismic,” said Selzer. “Now a majority say American democracy is under major threat—a 21 point change.”

Graph showing majority think American democracy is under a major threat

Strong Bipartisan Majorities Favor Term Limits for Congress and the Supreme Court

When asked about changes to the U.S. Constitution, 15% of respondents indicated that they believe the U.S. Constitution needs major revisions, 41% favor minor revisions, and 42% favor keeping the Constitution as written. This modest majority in favor of reform (56%) masks a stronger desire for specific change. When subsequently asked if they favor or oppose specific actions that require Constitutional revision, majorities favor a change in three out of four specific instances. Strong bipartisan majorities of 86% and 67% want to impose term limits on Congress and the Supreme Court, respectively. A majority of 59% support abolishing the Electoral College, and a plurality of 49% would also do away with birthright citizenship.

Graph showing strong support for term limits for congress and SCOTUS, moderate support for abolishing the electoral college and birthright citizenship

“We find a combination of worry and restlessness with the current state of politics among our respondents,” said Hanson. “Americans are concerned about our democracy and want to shake things up. Changes to the Constitution such as mandatory term limits for Congress and the Court or abolishing the Electoral College would be major changes to our system of government.”

Values Suffer Under Partisan Lens, Little Cross-Party Dialogue

To provide insight into how each major party views its counterpart, The Grinnell College National Poll tested six common values associated with the United States and asked both Republicans and Democrats to rate them for the opposing party. Overall, less than half of respondents – regardless of their party affiliation – believe the opposition prioritizes common values such as wanting the best for the country, supporting the Constitution, freedom, hard work, and compromise.

“It is surprising that more people don’t agree on these cross-partisan, pan-American values. Democrats are more generous in assessing Republicans except on issues of equality and willingness to compromise,” said Andreas Jozwiak, Ph.D., assistant professor of political science at Grinnell College. “These data suggest that both parties see politics as a zero-sum game.”

Graph showing party members do not believe other party values freedom, hard work, the constitution, the best for the country, equality, or compromise

Political conversations in daily life with people in the opposing party are also limited, with just 51% of Republicans and 49% of Democrats reporting that they have conversations with people they know to be in the other party several times a month or more. “Around half of Democrats and Republicans live in partisan bubbles, rarely interacting with people from the other side,” said Hanson. “This kind of isolation from each other helps to explain why our politics feel stuck in the deep freeze, with many Americans simply unable to understand where the other side is coming from.”

The Grinnell College National Poll surveyed 1,006 Americans ages 18 and over between October 10–15, 2023. The sample is weighted by sex, age, and race. Results for questions asked of the full sample have a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points.

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