WASHINGTON - Old. Confused. Corrupt. Dishonest
Those are among the top terms Americans use when they’re asked to describe President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, the Republican best positioned to face him in next year’s election.
Unflattering portraits of both emerge clearly in a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, which asked an open-ended question about what comes to mind when people think of them.
For Biden, the largest share of U.S. adults — including both Democrats and Republicans — mentioned his age. At 80, the Democratic president is just three years older than Trump, but many Americans expressed real concerns about his ability to continue as president.
Trump, meanwhile, has been indicted in four cases featuring 91 total criminal counts and elicits words such as "corrupt" and "crooked" (named by 15%), along with "bad" and other generally negative comments (11%). Not far behind are words like "liar" and "dishonest" (8%). Another 8% offered generally positive comments like "good," though.
A deeper look doesn’t improve things much for Biden or Trump. And while many of the criticisms reflect a familiar partisan divide, the poll shows neither man is immune to criticism from within his own party.
"He looks like he needs to be someone’s kindly grandpa on the arm, not someone at the wheel of power," Justin Campbell, a 27-year-old Democrat and security guard in the Brookhaven area of Mississippi, said of Biden. He was even more negative about Trump, though, saying that the former president "acts like a kindergartner when people tell him ‘no.’"
Campbell suggested that Trump reads so little about policy and national security that he might be "functionally illiterate." He said he plans to vote for Biden next year and, "I eagerly await Donald Trump being in jail."
Such sentiments were common. Fully 26% of respondents use words like "old" or "outdated" to describe Biden, and another 15% mention things like "slow" and "confused."
Another 10% give generally negative comments about the president, and 6% use words like "corrupt" and "crooked." Just 6% offer words like "president" and "leader," and 5% use those like "strong" and "capable" — the top positive comments made about Biden.
Biden’s age was referenced frequently even among Democrats, 28% of whom mention it — a significantly higher percentage than those who point to the presidency or leadership (11%) or strength and capability (11%).
Trump’s negative comments center not on age but on his moral standing and conduct, along with things like "loudmouth" and "angry" (6%), "crazy" and "dangerous" (6%) and "narcissist" (6%). Some 5% use words like "strong" and "capable."
Rami Marsha, a 58-year-old CEO of a manufacturing company in Agoura Hills, California, is a registered Democrat who voted for Trump in 2016 and for Biden in 2020 — but says he’d likely leave the presidential race portion of his ballot blank if those two square off again in 2024.
"I think he might be having some dementia, and I don’t think he has the power to run the country," Marsha said of Biden. But he was equally blunt about Trump: "I’ve had enough of him."
That’s a fairly common sentiment. The poll shows that only 24% of Americans overall want to see Biden run again, while 30% say the same about Trump — and majorities say they are reluctant to support them if they are nominated again.
Also, 62% of Americans say they have an unfavorable opinion of Trump; 52% say the same about Biden.
Biden’s reelection campaign said the president’s age is not a top motivator for voters, especially compared to the administration’s policy accomplishments or key issues like abortion. It also noted that perceptions of the president and Democrats were not strong before last year’s midterms — only to have the party defy expectations.
A Trump campaign spokesman did not answer messages seeking comment, but the former president has previously used his indictments to go on the political offensive, telling supporters at rallies, "I’m being indicted for you."
Larry Haith, a 73-year-old Idahoan and retired president and general manager of an auto parts firm, is a Republican who described Biden for the poll as an "idiot" and called Trump "arrogant." He said he doesn’t plan on voting for either next year.
Haith blamed Biden’s economic policies for his cash net worth declining at least about $150,000 and said the president "just needs to retire and get on with it."
Though he had some kind words for Trump, Haith was also critical of the former president.
"I really like what he did, and I like the decisions that he made," said Haith, who added that, at first, "I really liked that gruffness about him." But those feelings have cooled, he said, in part because Trump has what Haith described as "a typical New York, arrogant attitude."
"I’m not going to support him anymore," he said. "I’m done with him."
Annie Doerr, a 60-year-old retiree from suburban Atlanta who described herself as a moderate Republican, said of Trump, "I thought some of his policies were good for Americans, but he’s just too much of a distraction."
Doerr had problems with the president, too, comparing him to what she had seen while caring for her 95-year-old father.
"He reminded me a lot of Biden, just things that come out of (Biden’s) mouth," Doerr said.
"I just don’t think he’s fit to be president for four more years," she added. "He may have been when he first ran, but not now."
The poll also illustrated familiar ideological divides. It found that Republicans are more likely than Democrats to use words like "slow" and "confused" to describe Biden, 25% to 7%, as well as words like "corrupt" and "crooked" (14% to 0%) and "weak" or "unqualified" (9% to 2%).
For Trump, meanwhile, the top comments among Republicans include the generally positive (15%) along with things like "strong" (11%) and mentions of America or patriotism (8%), along with mentions of the presidency or leadership (6%).
Even some Republicans use negative words to describe Trump, though, including labels such as "loudmouth" or "angry" (7%). Others mentioned arrogance or pompousness (6%), narcissism (5%) or other generally negative comments (6%).
Democrats are more likely than Republicans to cite corruption (25% to 4%) and dishonesty (12% to 4%) to describe Trump. Seven percent of Democrats mention racism, bigotry, homophobia or misogyny among their top words to describe the former president. Those words were hardly invoked by any Republicans in the poll.
Susan Grant, a 66-year-old retired office manager for a nonprofit physician membership association from Westfield, Indiana, said she sees Biden as "very weak" and doesn’t agree with his policies. Trump, meanwhile, is "extremely divisive, and I think that’s bad for our country."
"There’s this whole thing, in the Bible, ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand,’ and all of the division that has just been promoted and pushed is just damaging to our country," Grant said. "I’m very conservative with values, with economic things. But, personally, I don’t think Trump’s a very good person."
Grant described herself as a "hold your nose" Trump voter twice before. If he’s the GOP nominee against Biden, she said, "I probably would do it a third time. But I would not be happy."
"I’m also wondering if it’s what we need for a third party," Grant said. "Maybe it’s the push. I don’t know."
The poll of 1,165 adults was conducted Aug. 10-14, 2023, 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 3.8 percentage points.