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As Biden Prepares to Address the Nation, Poll Finds More Than 6 in 10 Americans Doubt His Mental Capability TIME

President Biden Departs White House For Camp David

WASHINGTON — A poll finds that a growing share of U.S. adults doubt that 81-year-old President Joe Biden has the memory and acuity for the job, turning his coming State of the Union address into something of a real-time audition for a second term.

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Roughly 6 in 10 say they’re not very or not at all confident in Biden’s mental capability to serve effectively as president, according to a new survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. That’s a slight increase from January 2022, when about half of those polled expressed similar concerns.

By the same token, nearly 6 in 10 also say they lack confidence in the mental capability of former President Donald Trump, the 77-year-old Republican front-runner.

For many voters, this year’s election looks like a showdown for the world’s toughest job between two men who are well beyond the standard retirement age. The next president will probably need to steer through global conflicts, fix domestic emergencies and work with a dysfunctional Congress.

Biden is likely to address those challenges and more in his State of the Union address on Thursday as he tries to convince Americans that he deserves another term.

Going into the big event, just 38% of U.S. adults approve of how Biden is handling his job as president, while 61% disapprove. Democrats (74%) are much likelier than independents (20%) and Republicans (6%) to favor his performance. But there’s broad discontent on the way Biden is handling a variety of issues, including the economy, immigration and foreign policy.

About 4 in 10 Americans approve of the way Biden is handling each of these issues: health care, climate change, abortion policy and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. But people are less satisfied by Biden’s handling of immigration (29%), the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians (31%) and the economy (34%) — all of which are likely to come up in the speech before a joint session of Congress.

Nearly 6 in 10 (57%) Americans think the national economy is somewhat or much worse off than before Biden took office in 2021. Only 3 in 10 adults say it’s better under his leadership. Still, people are more optimistic about the state of their own bank accounts: 54% say their personal finances are good.

Many respondents to the survey were deeply pessimistic about their likely choices in November because of age and the risk of cognitive decline.

Paul Miller, himself 84, said Biden is just too old — and so is Trump.

“He doesn’t seem to have the mental whatever to be a president,” Miller said of Biden. He added that Trump is “too old, too, and half crazy.”

The retiree from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, said he voted for Trump in 2020 but he wouldn’t do so again.

“I don’t think I’m going to vote for either one of them,” he said. “I hope somebody else is available.”

The president faces added pressure about his age after unflattering descriptions of him contained in a special counsel’s report that did not recommend criminal prosecution of Biden for his mishandling of classified records, unlike Trump who was indicted for keeping classified material in his Florida home. The report said that Biden’s memory was “hazy,” “fuzzy,” “faulty,” “poor” and had “significant limitations.”

Biden has tried to deflect concerns by joking about his age and taking jabs at Trump’s own gaffes. Yet the president’s age is a liability that has overshadowed his policy achievements on infrastructure, manufacturing and addressing climate change.

About one-third of Democrats said they’re not very or not at all confident in Biden’s mental capability in the new survey, up from 14% in January 2022. Only 40% of Democrats said they’re extremely or very confident in Biden’s mental abilities, with approximately 3 in 10 saying they’re “somewhat” confident.

And in a major risk for Biden, independents are much more likely to say that they lack confidence in his mental abilities (80%) compared with Trump’s (56%).

Republicans are generally more comfortable with Trump’s mental capabilities than Democrats are with Biden’s. In the survey, 59% of Republicans are extremely or very confident that Trump has the mental abilities to be president. An additional 20% are somewhat confident, and 20% are not very or not at all confident.

But if there is one thing Democrats and Republicans can agree upon, it’s that the other party’s likely nominee is not mentally up to the task. About 9 in 10 Republicans say Biden lacks the mental capability to serve as president, while a similar share of Democrats say that about Trump.

Part of Biden’s problem is that his policies have yet to break through the daily clutter of life.

Sharon Gallagher, 66, worries about inflation. She voted for Biden in 2020, but believes he has not done enough for the economy. She also feels Trump is a bit too quick to anger. The Sarasota, Florida, resident said she doesn’t have the bandwidth to really judge their policies.

“I don’t pay enough attention to politics to even know,” Gallagher said. “I have grandchildren living with me and I have children’s shows on all day.”

Justin Tjernlund, 40, from Grand Rapids, Michigan, said Biden “seems like he’s mostly still there,” but even if he was in decline he has “a whole army of people to help him do the job.” Trjenlund said he voted for Trump in 2020 and plans to do so again because the Republican is “interesting” and “refreshing.”

Still, because of both candidates’ ages, Greg Olivo, 62, said he plans to focus on Vice President Kamala Harris and whomever Trump, if he’s the nominee, picks for a running mate.

“Keep a close eye on the vice president,” said the machinist from Valley City, Ohio, who voted for Biden in 2020 and would do so again. “Because that person will probably be the president in four years, one way or another.”

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The poll of 1,102 adults was conducted Feb. 22-26, 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 4.1 percentage points.

___

Associated Press polling reporter Linley Sanders contributed.

Josh Boak and Amelia Thomson-Deveaux / AP

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