Undecided voters await Biden-Trump debate with eye on economy, border and age

Gina Gannon, a retiree in the battleground state of Georgia, voted for Republican Donald Trump in 2016 before ditching him for Democrat Joe Biden in 2020 – and is now looking to next week’s debate to help her decide which one to back this year.

Ms Gannon, 65, flipped to Mr Biden, she said, because she felt Mr Trump’s presidency was too chaotic. But she is now leaning toward Mr Trump again, unhappy about illegal immigration at the US-Mexico border and inflation under Mr Biden’s administration.

Mr Biden could sway her, however, if he presents a strong proposal to secure the border and shows a steady hand despite his age, she said.

Mr Trump, 78, is “always a wild card,” Ms Gannon said. Yet for the 81-year-old Mr Biden “there’s certainly the age concern and how he will be able to handle himself”.

About 20 per cent of voters say they have not picked a candidate in this year’s presidential race, are leaning toward third-party options or might not vote at all in the November 5th election, according to the most recent Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Reuters interviewed 15 such voters ahead of the June 27th debate in Atlanta to learn what they hope to see when Mr Biden and Mr Trump square off and how the candidates – now essentially tied in national opinion polls with fewer than five months until election day – can earn their support.

Undecided voters

The group of undecided voters includes seven men and eight women from a mix of Democrat-leaning, Republican-leaning and battleground states. They vary by age, party affiliation and race.

Of the 15 voters, nine were previous Biden voters who had partially or fully soured on him, with one now leaning toward Mr Trump. Three of the 15 voters had soured on Mr Trump but were not considering Mr Biden as an alternative.

Mental fitness, especially Mr Biden’s, is a key issue for these undecided voters, who will be watching the first debate to see how well the two oldest candidates ever to run for US president can think on their feet.

Mr Biden’s stewardship of the economy, and especially his handling of inflation, is also a hot topic.

Increases in consumer prices have slowed considerably from a peak in June 2022, but voters still regularly complain of sticker shock at the grocery store.

Pennsylvania resident Rich Liebig, 35, voted for Mr Biden in 2016 and 2020 but is now undecided, chiefly because he feels Mr Biden is too old. Mr Liebig also is put off by Mr Trump’s legal problems and what he called the “hullabaloo” around the Republican former president.

Mr Liebig, who was laid off from his job in marketing recently, said he will watch the debate for signs from Mr Biden on the economy.

“What is his agenda, if he gets a second term, to address inflation?” Mr Liebig said, adding that he also wants to see strength from the president. “Biden has got to show that he can take on Trump again.”

Focus on immigration

Several voters who supported Mr Biden in 2020 said he needs to address immigration during the debate. Mr Biden took office in 2021 vowing to reverse many of Mr Trump’s restrictive border policies, but he has struggled with record numbers of migrants caught illegally crossing the US-Mexico border on his watch.

Mr Biden has shifted rightward on the issue and earlier this month instituted a broad asylum ban to reduce illegal crossings. Mr Trump, who made a hardline stance on immigration a centrepiece of his 2017-21 administration, has vowed a wide-ranging crackdown if re-elected.

The border “needs to be under control,” said Ashley Altum, a mental health case manager in South Carolina who voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Biden in 2020, and thinks both Mr Biden and Mr Trump are too old to be running.

Ms Altum said she would never consider voting for Mr Trump but might have backed a different Republican candidate. Now, she may abstain from voting at all in the presidential election.

Trump conviction

Mr Trump’s felony conviction in May is a factor for voters like ShaRon Johnson Bynum, a former Biden supporter who is unhappy with the Democratic president but believes the conviction disqualifies Mr Trump.

Ms Bynum, a 59-year-old telecommunication programme manager in North Carolina, voted for Ms Clinton in 2016 and Mr Biden in 2020 because she felt Mr Trump was unfit for the role. A registered independent, she said she has voted for Republican presidential candidates in the past.

This year, as she decides whether to vote for Mr Biden or a potential third party candidate, Ms Bynum said she will watch the debate to see if Mr Biden is “mentally and physically able to do the role.”

“My biggest concern right now is these trials and the outcome of these trials for the Republican candidate,” Ms Bynum said, referring to Mr Trump’s three remaining criminal cases. “And the age and capacity of the Democratic candidate.”

Tom Reich, a 39-year-old Republican in Maryland, did not vote for president in either 2016 or 2020 and is open this year to voting for independent candidate Robert F Kennedy Jr, who has not qualified for the debate.

Mr Reich said he will be looking to see if either of the main party candidates shows signs of mental decline as they square off: “Anything that either says that is way out in left field, doesn’t make sense and is not the kind of thing I’d want to see from someone running the country,” he said.

“Anything scary in either direction would sway me toward the other,” Mr Reich said. “I think that is more likely than either candidate swaying me toward them.”

Sourse: breakingnews.ie

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