America Speaks: What do they say about cognitive exams for presidential candidates? 

August 28, 2020, 5:30 PM GMT+0

When President Donald Trump challenged Joe Biden in early August to take a cognitive test, Biden's opinion on the subject was clear: “Why the hell would I take a cognitive test?” Biden said when asked about the challenge by CBS's Errol Barnett.

But what did YouGov users make of Trump’s proposition?

More than three quarters of Americans (76%) support presidential candidates being required to take a cognitive exam (39% ‘strongly’, 28% ‘somewhat’) according to a recent YouGov Daily survey.

To find out more about why people feel this way, YouGov posed the same polling question to YouGov Chat users.

“They have to run a country so it is important to know they are all there and playing with a full deck of cards.”


Most arguments put forward by YouGov Chat users for why a cognitive test should be required were - perhaps unsurprisingly - rooted in partisan debate. Nearly half of all 2,589 comments made by those who said they support the idea of a mental exam for presidential candidates centered on the idea that a test would prove either Trump or Biden’s cognitive inadequacy.

“Because Joe Biden does not seem up to the task…” one user wrote, “..he seems very confused and rambles off into left field at many of his public appearances. This is too important of a job to have someone in the position that is not cognitively sound!”. Users with a different political perspective often made nearly identical arguments for the other side. A good example of this includes one user's comment that “since Trump is definitely in decline it's put the subject in the limelight.”

A significant number of users, however, managed to look beyond the partisan divide when justifying their support for a cognitive test. Many argued that examining a candidate’s mental state might help voters decide who is most fit for the job, regardless of their political affiliation.

“While there are checks and balances in the constitution to enable removal of a president, there is nothing to keep a candidate off the ballot,” said one user in a detailed breakdown of why they support a cognitive test for candidates, “I think we are entitled to know whether or not a candidate is suffering from dementia.” Others put their thoughts in somewhat simpler terms: “I’d like my leader to not have a mushy brain.”

A few pro-cognitive test users on the Chat took the opportunity to outline a plan for the kind of mental exam presidential candidates should be required to take. “It should be a tougher exam than the MoCA [Note: MoCA is a popular 10 minute test for mild cognitive dysfunction] which is what Trump shows off about passing, it should be full neuropsychological testing which takes 4 hours” one user wrote. Others suggested that a history test be included in the cognitive exam. “They should take a test to see how much of the constitution they know and the history of our country.”

YouGov Chat also asks participants to consider the other side of the debate. Users that believe a cognitive test should be a requirement for all presidential candidates said the strongest reason to oppose such a test were concerns over its accuracy (27%). A further 18 percent of users said the argument that it ‘should be private information’ was the most compelling reason to reject a cognitive test.

“We already have cognitive exams for candidates. They are called debates and work well if orchestrated correctly and aired publicly.”


More than one in 10 Americans (14%) oppose the idea of presidential candidates being required to take a cognitive test. On YouGov Chat, users provided a whole host of reasons as to why they think the test is a bad idea. Some argued that such a test wouldn’t give voters accurate information about a candidate's mental capacity. “I've taken one. Only way you flunk is if you have Alzheimer's. Not a good enough test.”

Others feared that the results of any test may be used to manipulate voters: “I don't oppose the idea of a cognitive exam, but I don't trust how the results would be used. Things are so politicized today that I don't trust how this would be done or used to influence the public.”

The main reason, however, at least according to YouGov Chat users, for opposing the test was that it's not important. “We as the voting public should be able to determine whether a candidate is worthy” argued one user. Another said “it's not required by the Constitution and we see and hear enough of the candidates already to make up our minds.”

When pushing back against Trump's challenge, Biden said such a question was akin to asking about a drug test. That may be so, but a small number of YouGov users from both sides of the debate suggested that requiring presidential candidates to take a cognitive test was perhaps more comparable to forcing them to make public their tax returns, which is not a requirement. “Drop the cognitive exam, show the tax returns” one user wrote.

Not everyone was so like minded. “There is no constitutional allowance for adding additional requirements to people running for President. That includes ‘tests’ or tax returns or anything else.”

Everyday, members of YouGov Chat are asked to share their opinion on a topic in the news. We allow anyone to take part in these chats, and do not display or weight results in real-time. Instead, to make the experience informative but still interactive, the chat displays weighted data from YouGov Direct to show them how the rest of the country voted. This enables us to pose the question to all, while retaining data accuracy and validity when communicating results.

YouGov chat seeks to add to the ‘what?’ (the quantitative poll result) by finding the ‘why?” (qualitative open ends) in a member’s own words. Learn more about YouGov Chat here.