You would have to look very hard to find any good news for Republicans in the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. The Dec. 13-15 survey of 900 adults (736 registered voters) conducted by two of the best in the business—Republican pollster Bill McInturff and his team at Public Opinion Strategies and Fred Yang and his associates at the Democratic firm of Hart Research—found that the percentage of people believing that the country is headed in the right direction was just 29 percent, down from 37 percent last January, 40 percent last February, and 34 percent last April, the last time this question was asked. Respondents who thought the country was on the wrong track rose to 63 percent, significantly higher than the 52 and 51 percent findings in January and February, as well as the 59 percent reading in April. The late Richard Wirthlin, who gained fame as President Reagan’s pollster, used to call this question “the Dow Jones indicator of American politics.”
When asked, “Compared to other years, do you think 2017 was one of the best years for the United States, above average, about average, below average or one of the worst years for the United States?,” just 4 percent picked “one of the best,” 17 percent “above average,” and 25 percent “average.” But 28 percent chose “below average” and 24 percent picked “one of the worst,” meaning that 52 percent felt the year was, at best, below average.
The poll put President Trump’s job-approval rating at 41 percent, up from 38 percent in the last poll in October, with his disapproval rating at 56 percent, down 2 points from the previous poll. These numbers are slightly better for Trump than most other polls. The NBC/WSJ pollsters have conducted extensive research in recent months about who is responding in polls and who isn’t, and concluded that there was a sliver of non-college-educated white men who have been under-sampled in many polls by roughly 3 points. Some in that cohort seem to refuse to participate in polls, which can be fixed by tweaking the weight of the group in the final calculation.
Overall, it is the intensity of the disapproval that should be very concerning to Republicans—24 percent strongly approved of Trump’s performance, 17 percent somewhat approved, 8 percent somewhat disapproved, and 48 percent strongly disapproved. Having two respondents strongly disapproving for every one strongly approving is a revealing result.
For the Republican Party as a whole, 27 percent had a positive view compared to 49 percent who had a negative view. The assessments of the Democrats showed 33 percent holding a positive view and 38 percent with a negative impression. Special Counsel Robert Mueller had a positive rating of 28 percent and a negative reading of 21 percent.
On the generic-congressional-ballot question, Democrats had an 11-point advantage among registered voters, 50 to 39 percent. Prior to the last Democratic wave election in 2006, the Democratic advantage was 10 points. Only once in the 53 times that the NBC/WSJ poll has asked that question since October 2009 has the GOP vote been this low, and only once since September 2008 has the Democratic vote been this high.
One needs to go back to September 2008 to find a time when Democrats had both a double-digit lead and were at 50 percent or higher in the generic-congressional-ballot test. It was also true in October 2006, and both years were really good for Democrats. Republicans have dropped to a 2-point deficit even among men (46 to 44 percent), the change driven by men 18 to 49 years of age who now side with Democrats by 19 points. Among all voters in the 18-to-34-year-old group, Republicans trailed by 48 points, 69 to 21 percent. Among white women, Democrats had a 6-point edge (48 to 42 percent), and among suburban women they registered a 16-point advantage (53 to 37 percent). Among those in districts represented by Republican members of Congress, the generic Republican candidate had a lead of just 8 points, 49 to 41 percent; the norm is a GOP lead in low double-digits.
When respondents were asked on a scale of 1 to 10 their interest in next year’s midterm elections, with 10 representing the greatest interest, 59 percent of Democrats chose either 9 or 10, compared to just 49 percent of Republicans. In midterm elections when voter turnout is lower, interest in the election is important.
In an interesting set of four questions, the pollsters asked about whether Trump has made certain issues better or worse, or not made much of a difference. On “America’s standing in the world,” 53 percent said worse, 28 percent said better, and 18 percent chose not much difference. On “bringing the country together,” 57 percent picked worse, 17 percent said better, and 25 percent didn’t see much difference. On “the division and partisanship in politics,” 58 percent said worse, 9 percent said better, and 30 percent didn’t detect much difference. But on the economy, 40 percent said better, 21 percent chose worse, and 35 percent not much difference. That far more people give Trump at least some credit for the economy but still give him a dismal job-approval rating is not a good omen for Republicans hoping that the economy will save their bacon next November.
The poll asked how respondents might vote in the next presidential election if given a choice between Trump and “the Democratic candidate.” Thirty-six percent chose Trump and 52 percent picked the Democrat. A similar gap was evident when the pollsters measured intensity: 18 percent said they “definitely would vote for Trump” and another 18 percent said they would “probably vote for Trump,” while 14 percent said they would probably vote for a Democrat and 38 percent said they would definitely vote for a Democrat. Of course, who Democrats nominate is important. It calls to mind the old joke about the woman being asked, “How’s your husband?” She replied, “Compared to what?”
Image: Kevin Dietsch/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images