Dr. Frank Luntz

Pollster and Political Analyst

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Commentary

‘On death’s door’: Undecided voters react to first debate

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Dr. Frank Luntz

Pollster and Political Analyst

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The first live debate of 2024 between current President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump sparked a flurry of questions and concerns. Trump, for his part, refused to commit to accepting election results or to rule out staging future coup attempts like Jan. 6, and again referred to those who stormed the U.S. Capitol as “patriots.” Biden, for his part, appeared suddenly far more aged than he had only one hundred days before for his State of the Union Address, and seemed cognitively “out of it.”

Watch this 33-minute episode of America Speaks as pollster and political analyst Dr. Frank Luntz asks a panel of undecided U.S. voters for their reactions to the debate.


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Interested in different perspectives? Have a look at how our other contributors view this issue from across the political spectrum:

Jordan Reid: Despite poor debate performance, Biden deserves our support.

Star Parker: Debate disaster raises questions about Biden’s capacity to lead.

Dr. Rashad Richey: Americans deserve younger candidates, better ideas.

Show of hands, who is more likely to vote for Joe Biden because of what you seen over the last hour? Raise your hands.
Not one of you, holy cow. I have to clean up my language. That is not the word I’m thinking. Howard. Why?
He does not seem composed. He seems like he is literally about to be on death’s door.
Christina, now more likely to vote for Biden. He’s just been on for an hour.
He’s lost. He can’t complete a thought he seems weak and fragile.
John, why not? More for Biden, after what you just saw. I thought he was going to be a little more forceful tonight. Similar to the State of the Union. I’m just surprised at how
he looks decrepit frankly.
Amy, what’s up here?
I agree with it. What everybody said he seems inept. I’m not strong, weak, and not ready to lead. Gary? Why oh, I only get that last after about 36 beers. He keeps finishing off from the beginning to the end. And what makes me worry is who will succeed him if he does lose it? Because I’m I’m as worried about her as I am. Frankly.
Adam, why Why have you not moved towards Biden in the last hour? You mean similar to everyone else? He’s not coherent. Like it seems like he’s having trouble streaming the other thought kind of thing. In addition to he’s not even talked about 2020 Like 2025 and beyond.
John, can you explain it?
He did. Like he has the direct like he has this deer in the headlights look. He looks lost. He looked defeated in the beginning and like Trump, and you could see Trump’s Trump’s body language he seized on that. And he’s just been steamrolled. I mean, it’s sad.
James, why have you not moved towards Biden in the last hour? There’s more, it makes me so sad that he lacks any type of leadership qualities that you need to run a country. I mean, this is the President of the United States. And I’m sorry, he’s just,
you know, not eligible. And any terms for me to consider running for president? Okay, I need everyone to hold just for one second, because it’s starting up again. I’ve got one simple question for you. All.
Right. Hold on. How many of you voted for Joe Biden in 2020? Raise your hands.
12345678 of you? How many of you voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016?
One, two of you.
Three of you. How many of you are truly swing voters? Raise your hands if you go Republican and Democrat? If you’re a swing voter, raise your hands. Okay, this is a disaster for Joe Biden. Let’s go back to the debate.
Okay, how many of you are more likely to vote for Donald Trump? Because of the last 90 minutes? Raise your hands?
1-236-789-1011 of you.
Okay, peers tell me why. He just looks a lot stronger. He looks like I mean, none of them are on neither of them are on message. However, I’m buying Trump’s message in leadership much more so than I’m buying Biden’s. Michael, why are you more likely to vote for Trump? I don’t want to, but I have I feel like I have to Frank. Walking Biden was like watching my grandmother trying to program the VCR. It was sad. It was it was I’m ashamed that the DNC did this.
Christina Why did Biden move you in his direction? I was hoping he gave me something to latch on to but instead he just made me fearful that he’s in charge and Kamal is second. Okay, and I said that wrong. Why did try
I’ll move you in his direction.
And just he seems like he can actually do the job if this is what we got to choose from. Who else is more likely to vote for Trump after watching the first 90 minutes of this? Raise your hands again? Okay, John, I’m going to you choose almost all of you, John, Adam, and then Emily. John, go ahead. It’s I mean, we’ve said it time and again, Biden looks lost and then mumbles on it’s like, Trump. Yeah, he’s, I mean, yeah, there are four years difference. But when you like, fader said in the chat, whoever said splitscreen, they look at least a decade apart. And like, I don’t think Biden can make it to November.
Why more likely, Trump after the last 90 minutes, I mean, he’s, at least go here. And I really, really dislike Trump. I really don’t want to vote for him. But I have to vote for one of the two is the way I see it. And at least he can string a sentence together. And it seems like leaving at least some circumstances maybe versus Biden just wants to fall asleep the entire time. Emily, why Trump has moved you? Uh, he might be a pompous ass, but I feel like when it comes to garnering respect from world leaders, he can do it. To more of you. Why did Trump move you in his direction? Any two of you? Because Biden scared the shit out of me.
Okay, explain that read. of Justin Biden. I can’t I just can’t even take one minute of him speaking I start to lose focus. I want to know your reaction to tonight. Does it change your vote? Did it change your preference? You were undecided? Before this debate? Where are you right now in two sentences? Karen, let’s start with you from Michigan.
I’m leaning more towards Biden, because
we have two men.
The question is, both of them are going to dig us into a hole.
I’ll take the one. Hopefully that digs a shallower hole to dig us out of here in two sentences. Have you moved and towards you and why? I think the debate was sad and unfortunate for America and it has pushed me towards Trump. I just feel like he’s gonna be a stronger leader. And it’s not what I want to do, but it’s what I have to do. Michael, how do you answer that question? Michael from Pennsylvania. Same in Biden’s performance was
It was sad. It was baffling how they can put them up there and expect us to believe he’s fit to lead. I mean, forget the election. We’re going into 25th amendment territory, Frank. Emily, can you give me a sensor to on tonight and did it move your preference? It did. I feel like my decision is pretty sad that I will be voting for Trump. I feel that he is the more capable candidate to run our country. Read, same question. I mean, it’s the third time in America honestly, four years at least it’s only four. But I’m leaning more towards Trump only because of the whole Biden energy that I can’t focus. I just can’t focus on him at all. Christina, how do you answer the question?
i It’s very frustrating. I am leaving very disheartened for America. But I am leaning more towards Trump even though morally I feel like I can’t even vote for him, but at least he can show up to the job. Adam from Michigan, your reaction? I mean, if you had a gun to my head, I would tell you that I was leaning towards Trump in this situation. I really don’t like him. But again, he can string together a sentence and might be capable of a miniscule amount of more leadership than Biden. Amy from Pennsylvania. If I had to vote today I would vote for Trump. I thought he was more presidential stoic and his last two minutes were very succinct. John from Arizona. Trump reluctantly, I despise his moral character, but I just don’t have confidence in Biden.
Howard from Georgia,
I wouldn’t have just say Trump more so I don’t trust Kamala Harris as president and there’s no way Joe Biden would survive. Gary from Michigan. I think I made up my mind tonight.
There are things I hate about Trump, but I think I made up my mind I’m gonna vote for him because of the performance of Biden and because of who will take his place if he wins. John from Pennsylvania.
Tonight was Muhammad Ali versus Larry Holmes was a sad night for Joe
Biden, I’m leaning towards Trump.
James from Nevada. I’m leaning towards Donald Trump, just because I believe that Joe Biden has lacks any leadership, ability to get anything done. I’m
Thomas from Arizona, still undecided.
So the last 90 minutes had no impact on you at all.
It had impact, but I’m morally torn between Biden and Trump still.
Michael, one more shot in two sentences, your reaction to tonight
was pushed towards Trump after tonight’s performance by Biden, it was I was hoping for the best but you just couldn’t deliver.
I’m going to be accused, I can tell you this already. I’m going to be accused of setting this up.
So once again, how many of you voted for either Hillary Clinton, or Joe Biden? In 2016, or 2020 voted for either them, raise your hands 123456789 of the 13 of you.
And you’re not going to do it again. You know, Democrat, and you’re not going to do it again. And you don’t even like Trump. And you’re not going to do it again. So what happened tonight? Explain it.
Well, watching was Biden what was sad he, I think he over prepared and fell short.
Somebody else agree with that. And I think that the world is on such a big stage and everybody’s watching. And we have to be smart about who we elect and the things that are going on. We have real issues that are facing every single one of us every single day, Trump is better suited to get those issues resolved, or at least move us into that direction. Somebody else?
I was surprised that Donald Trump handled his behavior and temper and the tactics that he used in the past he hasn’t he was a lot more. His demeanor was better tonight.
Somebody else explained this.
So
the world’s on fire. I feel like we’ve had multiple wars start in the last couple of years. We need someone that can react quickly, decisively. And that’s definitely not what Joe Biden is. I mean, he was the opposite of both quick and decisive and coherent. And we need someone that can at least meet the minimum bar.
Okay, Karen, you don’t agree with any of these people in this focus group? I want to give you the last word in this question.
We have
a constitution. And I believe it’s sacred.
I believe this country will hold together regardless of who we elected November. And if either of them die, who picks up afterwards, in November or beyond.
I just cannot
win vote
for someone who’s an energetic liar.
And
the person who was speaking tonight, the most lying the most about everything,
from Roe v Wade, to child care to opioids to addiction to his record with the military,
just because he’s loud doesn’t make him right. And just because he projects energy, doesn’t mean that he’s going to save us. In fact, that very tendency, is bombast at his.
I don’t know gregariousness or whatever, may be the one thing that undoes us. And I can’t risk that.
It may be like it’s the Biden is the weaker of the two. I agree. It was very painful, very painful to watch Biden tonight. But on the other hand,
I trust the Constitution. And I believe that one of these two gentlemen is more danger to the country than the other.
And that person
should not be president, not when he speaks words like retribution. And that when he speaks words like pardon, and he really refers to Himself, not when he talks about looking at his opponent and saying, everything you did you screwed up. I don’t really want to do any of this. I don’t want to I wouldn’t want to do any of this. I’d rather be in my happy place.
You started my golf course. Okay? God knows no parent. I respect your opinion. I feel this way. I love my country more than I hate one man.
As much as I do not like this man, I love my country more. And that’s why I think the way I do and I think most of these people agree the same the same exact way. We just can’t put our hate for somebody in front of our love for the country. It just doesn’t feel right. And it’s just, that’s just my my two cents. You guys please chime in. I’d love to hear it. I’m just curious, based on Biden’s performance, is anyone else wondering? Is he actually calling the shots because he doesn’t seem enough
to enact anything? I know, it’s my concern, too.
It’s very embarrassing watching Biden tonight.
I don’t know how Yeah. Does, you know, work as the president, you know, when we’re watching the debate just before our eyes, this guy’s just stumbling on words and not even constructing a sentence.
lost in thought
is not competent. It’s sad. No leadership ability that I seen.
I mean, I posted that chat during the chat. I said, Are We Now finally allowed to ask who’s in charge? Yeah, because clearly, we could all see it’s not him. I mean, it’s it’s elder abuse at this point, dad.
He shouldn’t be retired and spending days with his grandkids.
Yellow, eating ice cream, eating ice cream driving this Corvette wareness at Goodwill. I think it’s Jill, who wants to power. You know,
I would vote for Biden if Kamala Harris wasn’t second in line, and I could trust whoever was going to come in because I feel like there’s two dangers to our Constitution. Yes. I hate what happened on January 6. I hate the rhetoric that Trump speaks. But you’ve got someone behind him in a party that is leaning more left every day that also wants to change our Constitution and is going to degrade it in different ways. They want to expand the Supreme Court, they want to legislate things that you know, I think are more extreme. There’s other ways to degrade the Constitution. I feel like Kamala either represents it or will not stand up to it. She wants to go with that. And to me, that’s just as scary as the moral question of Donald Trump. If he were to switch out Kamala was someone else I’d vote for him tomorrow. But if that’d be someone more moderate.
What happened tonight is proved that Joe Biden is not in a position to run the country. Joe Biden wants to answer and pander to who he believes is his supporters. Donald Trump showed he is more of his own man, and that he he will do what he believes is best, no matter who he pisses off.
And, John, what do you think? I trust that Trump will make a good vice presidential pick. Pence was a good pick. Harris has been a disaster. At the end of the day, I think Biden will not be nominated by the Democratic Party.
Oh, okay. What does this mean for the country? I know you all feel this way. I know. We’re gonna have a new candidate.
Thomas, you also you didn’t say by one. But you say Trump won.
I can’t believe anyone could watch for more than 90 minutes and not be moved, but you weren’t. So go ahead and tell America why?
Because I struggled with
I struggled with the moral question of which rights are going to be taken away the next time.
And my cultural does not allow me to say it’s okay to take away my rights.
As hard as as deep as we fought and to have them become the same as everyone else in this country.
And women’s rights is just the beginning of what rights we may lose. If we don’t stop where we’re headed.
And I I feel as though that’s a moral choice, not a
monetary choice, which I normally make when I’m voting, but this moral choice has Bitcoin. And as as the debate went on, listening
to both of the candidates, I still am in that more than them.
Of who is going to make sure the country survives. Versus I survived.
Because I do have family and other people that I, you know, children and grandchildren that I want to live in a country that’s free and then be able to make their own decisions about what they want to do, and how they want to do.
I’m gonna flip it on its head and say that Trump didn’t win this debate, Biden lawston
I mean, multiple times, just that.
That deer in the headlights look, now he has a stutter, obviously, like that’s been well documented. And
he overcame it. Like, and but it’s he just like, can’t
you just can’t keep up. I mean, it’s like the the literally the I think was pure said this. The expectation for Biden was just show up, look alive. And
one foot in the grave. Like, and it’s as like, and I was like, I genuinely was like, rooting for Biden, like Biden is like, the cool grandpa that like you really want to do well. And it’s like a slow moving train wreck that you cannot stop. And he lost the debate. It was his to lose any fluid.
Somebody else Howard, you go, and then pierce you go.
I will say this for the undecideds. The next debate could tide the turn, because neither candidate talked about the future. All they talked about was the past, if either candidate will come up with plans for the future, that will make a break.
I agree with that. I also think that the whole debate, there was no policy whatsoever. And I think it does a disservice to America, because we do have so many crucial issues that are facing their people dying every day. And there’s violence, there’s crimes, there’s drugs. So immigration, we have serious things that we need to take a look at. And they’re completely right. It was Biden Soluz. And I definitely think he lost that. And if Trump just stood there and tried to look morally decent, you know, and stay somewhat close to the message and not be so childish. He was going to win. So I personally, I do think that Trump definitely won the debate. And I think he probably will go on to win the election, especially after tonight.
Okay, you raise a good point. And I actually like the way that you asked that question. So for the 12 of you, who move towards Trump,
is it Trump’s win or Biden’s loss that caused the greatest impact on you? Raise your hands if you think it’s Trump’s win that Trump won?
Who think is who thinks is that Biden last? Raise your hands? Is everybody here? Okay, explain it one last time. It’s just the sadness to watch him and the sadness that I have to choose this other guy, because this guy, I cannot just focus on a single word I can’t understand. I can’t hear I can’t just comprehend anything. And he’s the President of the United States. This is President of the number one country in the world and every other country. They’re voting younger, younger, younger, and we’re going older. It’s just said, we’ve seen why is it that Biden loss rather than Trump won?
I mean, there’s times where he is out of breath, and he can’t keep my attention. So I can’t imagine how he can keep his staffs attention, legislators attention, or even leader of the world’s attention to actually get his job done. So by showing how frail he is, I think he lost it because I think he lost the faith of the people who gave him a shot last time around.
Okay, Emily, why is it that it’s not the Trump one that is abandoned last?
Anyone who watched the previous debates with Trump knows he was holding back he was being easy and polite to Biden tonight, and he he couldn’t keep up. He there were so many times he just kind of stared off and it’s like, are you rebooting like what’s happening? I just have no confidence in him and he dropped the ball.
Yeah, she laughing explain why
he was rebooting it to send me as
he’s
buffering, right.
Window turning for all four code.
Okay, clearly, you’ve got another great line for this.
And then there’s the emperor had no clothes.
Keep going. Explain to me why it wasn’t Trump’s victory. It was Biden’s loss.
I think the bar was just so incredibly low for Biden, he had it sit on stage talk for maybe 20 or 30 minutes coherently. That’s it. Donald Trump, I think was not even as hostile as he’s been. He’s been in the past, which is like let the focus be on Joe Biden’s like
slowness, sleepiness, like incoherence, even more, couldn’t even manage to like reach that bar that was like an inch off the ground, which is like red flag to me when I really, really, really wanted a reason just to not vote for Donald Trump.
Michael jump in, but give a quick response. But he showed us that the emperor has no clothes.
We got to stand in front of everybody. It’s just it was
it was embarrassing. As a citizen, there was
a me were you embarrassed by Biden’s performance. I actually thought that he had moments that were good, where he came out looking alive and a little bit stronger. But again, the bar was pretty low. And I really had hope on those last two minutes, thinking that if you know that would be two minutes that he had
written out, practice ready to go and he really fumbled those last two minutes.
Anybody else here?
How would go ahead and then John?
Picking up on what Amy said the last two minutes showed how inept he really is. Those were his words to shine, if he could even make it through two minutes. So how can we expect him to make it through for more?
Wow.
And just one more thing, his answers just seemed more rehearsed. I mean, they didn’t really come off as genuine. There’s that maybe that was just me? I don’t know.
I don’t think he made any sense at all. In his last two minutes. He strung a bunch of superlatives together that weren’t connected to any thought they were just superlative, and superlative. And then he twisted into a whole different thought, another superlative. And in the end, what you said did not make any sense at all. Really.
I would like to see, I’d like to see his last two minutes written out and try to understand if trying to see if anybody could understand what he actually said.
I’m asking you a question. I never believed I would ever ask you.
Should Joe Biden be the Democratic nominee for president? How many of you say yes, raise your hands?
Even those of you who are undecided, or move to him, not one of you. Last question, why should Joe Biden be forced to step aside? Any of you is ill is called Dementia.
He’s not gonna survive four more years.
John, he can’t leave.
John, not. Not Well, I mean, forget four more years. What about four and a half more months?
Amy, why should Biden step aside?
I think if the Democrats want to have someone in the White House after him, then they need to put someone else up.
Not only were you undecided, as you walked into this debate, but more of you voted for Biden than didn’t in 2020. And yet, all of you, without exception, want him to step aside as the Democratic nominee? Please explain that to the American people. Howard, I’m going to start with you.
He does not have the leadership qualities to survive for the next four years. I don’t even know how he’s gonna survive the next few months. They need a candidate that can beat Trump. John, why should Biden step aside?
I think Biden should step aside and like Howard said, and like what I said for not even next four years, the next four months, but also there’s serious fractures in the Democratic coalition based on Israel and these
old and he can’t rally everyone behind him. It’s not it’s not the it’s it can’t use the I’m not Trump argument anymore. Amy, you’re undecided and your Biden voter from 2020. And yet you want him to step aside now. Explain why.
Well, back then. He was an unknown to me really, at the time and I had seen what from Canada, and now that I’ve seen him in action or inaction.
I just think if the Democrats want to have a chance at
putting someone in the White House they need to put someone else up.
Adam, can you explain why? Because you voted for him and you’re undecided. And now you want to go to?
Definitely I think in 2020 Biden was a safe option that was relatively non harmful, harmful to replace Trump. And frankly, I did not didn’t think reflected these same cognitive issues that we see tonight. On the campaign. Yeah, it was little dry, but it was definitely not to the same extent, I think, tonight, like, I’m not sure how he functions like during an eight hour workday, let alone an eight hour workday are eight plus.
States.
Okay, we got more of you, John from Pennsylvania. You voted for him. You were undecided. Yes, wanting to step aside.
He should do for the Democratic Party. What LBJ did in 1968. It’s too divisive. For somebody to be put up as the leader of their party, and frankly, the leader of the free world. And you have to worry whether they’re even going to make it to the inauguration day. It’s it’s sad, but it needs to be done.
Thomas, you’re still undecided. And yet you want Biden to go? Please tell me why.
The risk of having a
person that doesn’t believe in the Constitution
and upholding the laws of this country is more important than one person or one candidate for any office in the country. And if, if that is what we’re protecting, and what I’m using my vote to try to protect them. That’s why
James, your Biden voter, you were I should say,
now you move towards Trump, but you actually want Biden to step aside as nominee. Explain why. Well, I guess just based on over the years, I guess you could say I see a decline in his capacity to fill the role for
becoming the president, you know, and so
it’s just I don’t have any confidence in that he’s not fit. I don’t believe anymore to serve in that role.
Did I miss anyone else who was a Biden, an actual Biden voter? May, Michael, you voted for him, you’ve moved towards Trump. But you actually want Biden to step aside? Tell me why. I watched every second tonight’s debate. And it’s, you know, it’s we need a president that can provide a clear direction and strong leadership and his frequent moments of incoherence. It’s kind of a lack of clarity. And I just, it just can’t, it can’t continue anymore, and just can’t. So what do we do now?

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