Our flawed comparisons of the mental faculties of Biden and Trump


a Wall Street Journal article Last week, a new round of teeth-gnashing began over the coverage of President Biden’s age. Quite a few Democrats wondered why Trump’s impractical behavior didn’t get the same treatment.

This is the former president, after all, who felt compelled to accept and promote the results Simple cognitive test Usually used to test for dementia, he once saw fit to call himself a “stable genius.” Trump often engages in outlandish statements, including one this weekend comparing Trump and Danger of submerged batteries to sharks.

But whatever the reasons, it is clear that concerns about Biden’s age and mental capacity outweigh concerns about Trump’s stability — both what he is today and what he was like when Trump’s behavior was more important for voters to monitor as president.

This wasn’t the case before, but it is now.

Some comparisons between the mental abilities of the two men miss the mark a bit. Polls often ask about the age of candidates or who has an advantage on measures such as “mental fitness” or “mental health.”

a CBS News/YouGov poll This weekend showed that 42 percent said only Trump has the “mental and cognitive health necessary to serve as president,” for example, while 25 percent said only Biden does. Likewise, a recent ABC News/Ipsos poll showed voters’ opinions He favored Trump 42 to 23 in “mental acuity.”

However, a better comparison might be Biden’s age and mental fitness to perceptions of Trump’s stability. After all, that was a huge mark against him with so many voters as president. It wasn’t that Trump was old or mentally dull; His behavior was strange. For example, a 2018 Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 47% of voters I didn’t believe the “stable” part of “stable genius” applied To a trump card. As previously Quinnipiac University poll. About half of Americans believe we have an unstable president.

When you put things into these terms, things get a little closer.

Perhaps the best recent survey on this is From NBC News, back in April. Multiple questions were asked that affect voters’ confidence in the candidates’ decision-making process:

  • When people were asked who was better in terms of “mental and physical health” to serve as president, they answered Trump by 19 points (45-26).
  • But when it came to “efficiency and effectiveness,” Trump’s lead shrank to 11 (47-36).
  • When the question was “ability to deal with the crisis,” the result was much closer, with Trump leading by only four points (46-42).

Likewise, March Public opinion poll Show that candidates are very close on some relevant measure. Fifty-six percent of respondents said each man was “smart,” while Trump had little margin for showing “good judgment in a crisis” (40-45).

And a Fox News poll Last year showed a relatively small gap between the percentage of people who viewed Biden (38 percent) and Trump (42 percent) as having the “judgment to serve effectively as president.”

It seems that when voters’ frames of reference are age and how accurate a candidate is or is presented as such, Biden has a distinct deficit. But when decision-making and judgment are the framework, that’s not much of an advantage for Trump.

However, it’s an advantage Trump did not have in 2020. The same NBC poll questions at the time showed voters were evenly split or favored Biden on each of the three questions above. The Fox poll showed that 52 percent of voters in July 2020 said that Biden has the ability to work effectively, compared to only 42 percent for Trump. And now Trump is leading all of these measures.

Perhaps more important is the proportion of voters who expressed serious reservations about Biden’s age (81 percent say he is too oldAccording to ABC poll) and mental fitness (More than 6 in 10 say they are not mentally fit This position, according to a recent Pew poll) is greater than the percentage who expressed reservations about Trump’s stability or rule (about half or slightly more).

It’s not just that voters don’t get a full, up-to-date picture of Trump’s mental state. It was once widely covered, and will be available for voters to re-evaluate in the coming months, starting with the first debate in two weeks. But will this new exposure offset Biden’s responsibilities on this front? Polling history suggests that probably won’t happen.



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