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NBC News Poll Reinforces Importance of Economic Issues, Yet Buries the Lede

AP Photo/Richard Drew

Polls conducted by mainstream outlets often provide valuable insight, if you know what findings to look at. The trouble, though, is that they bury the lede in ways that could very well help Democrats. This is especially ramping up now that we're less than two months away from the November 8 election.

Late last month I highlighted how CBS News Battleground Tracker poll done with YouGov ran into that very issue. On Sunday, NBC News released their latest poll. Of their many headlines about it, most of them favored Democrats. 

On Sunday morning's "First Read" for NBC News, Mark Murray's headline read "Poll: Abortion, Trump boost midterm prospects for Democrats."

A Google search of "NBC News Poll" finds that the outlet actually put out several headlines on the poll. Only one of them appears to be good for the Republican Party, which came as part of Monday's "First Read," with the headline that "Poll: GOP is winning on the economy, immigration; Democrats are ahead on abortion and health care."

Other headlines from NBC News include a clip from "Meet the Press," where the poll was discussed on Sunday morning, when it comes to how "Threats to democracy are top priority for voters: NBC News Poll." Another clip, from Tuesday, highlighted how "President Biden’s approval numbers on the rise, NBC News poll shows."

The Meet the Press blog had no less than three posts on the poll from Monday and Tuesday, which included Mark Murray's "Democratic midterm message outperforms GOP's message, NBC News poll finds," as well as Ben Kasimar's "GOP loyalty to Trump over party dips to new low in NBC poll," and Alexandra Marquez's "Voters split on student loan forgiveness, new poll shows."

Perhaps the most interesting piece from NBC News came as part of Sunday's "First Read" with a post by Dante Chinni, "NBC News poll shows where the midterm ‘persuadables’ live: These voters could decide the midterms."

Other mainstream media outlets went with a similar favorable narrative. Bloomberg's Peyton Forte highlighted how "Biden’s Approval Hits 45% in NBC Poll Showing Gain for Democrats," with Alex Gangitano writing for The Hill that "Biden approval up to 45 percent, highest since October: NBC News poll." Also writing for The Hill, Rachel Scully highlighted how "Trump’s favorability rating drops to new low: poll," though another headline of hers about that same poll read that "Voters split on which party should control Congress: poll."

Like the CBS News/YouGov poll, though, it's worth highlighting this poll shows inflation and other economic concerns to be top issues, especially compared to abortion.

Eighteen percent said "cost of living" was their top issue, with 16 percent saying "jobs/economy" was. Abortion was tied for the fifth biggest issue, at 8 percent, which is as it was in August. 

As it did in previous months, this NBC News poll also claimed that "threats to a democracy" was a bigger issue than economic ones. This month it came in as the top issue at 20 percent, slightly down from 21 percent, while the economic issues grew in importance. Matt and I have addressed how that's bogus, and MSNBC's Steve Kornacki pointed out how two very similar issues of "cost of living" and "jobs/economy" were separated.

Overall, "jobs and the economy" had the highest combined top first and second choice, at 34 percent, while "cost of living" came in at 33 percent, and "threats to democracy came in third at 27 percent. "Abortion," was fourth, at 18 percent, which is virtually unchanged from last month when it was at 17 percent. 

By double digits, voters also said "the cost of living" was more important than "the issue of abortion," with those numbers being 59 percent and 37 percent, respectively. 

The poll early on asked respondents if they felt the country was "headed in the right direction" or "off on the wrong track," with 27 percent choosing the former and 68 percent saying we're on the wrong track. When asked why, the overwhelming top answer was because of those who said "economy/inflation." Among those said said we were on the wrong track, 41 percent said so, while 28 percent of all voters said so. The issue of "women's reproductive rights debate" was way farther down the list, when 5 percent of those who said wrong track and 4 percent of all voters said so. 

There were findings that were also favorable to Republicans in other ways. As Guy pointed out on Monday, with original emphasis the poll in question shows that the Republican Party has "clear advantages, from the economy (+19), to the cost of living (+14), to border control (+36) and immigration (+17), to crime (+23).  And by all means, Republicans should lean into those issues."

They also have a lead on "Protecting our constitutional rights," by 9 points and "Being effective and getting things done," by 6 points. 

The Democratic Party is meanwhile favored on "Bringing the country together," by 4 points; "Protecting democracy," by 7 points; "Dealing with education," by 11 points; "Dealing with healthcare," by 20 points and "Dealing with the issue of abortion," by 22 points. 

Voters are evenly split in that 46 percent want to see a Republican-controlled Congress, while 46 percent want Democrats to stay in power. It's a slight improvement for the Democrats from last month's poll, when their numbers were at 45 percent while Republicans were at 47 percent. The RealClearPolitics (RCP) average for the generic ballot has Democrats up slightly, 45.1 percent to 44 percent. 

It is technically true that Biden is doing better than in previous polls, but with a 45 percent approval rating, a majority still disapprove at 52 percent. Further, he's faring poorly in other ways, especially when it comes to issues that matter to voters. 

Forty percent approve of his handling of the economy, while 58 percent disapprove. Slightly more disapprove from last month, actually, when 56 percent disapproved. Thirty percent approve of how Biden is handling cost of living, while 65 percent disapprove. These are better numbers for the president since the question was asked in May. 

The poll also found that a plurality, at 47 percent, said Biden's policies have "hurt economic conditions" rather than "helped" them. More respondents were likely to say it hadn't made much of a difference, at 28 percent, than the 23 percent who said they helped. 

Biden's RCP overall average sits at 42.3 percent, while 53.6 percent disapprove. 

This NBC News poll was conducted September 9-13, with 1,000 registered voters and a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. 

Those dates mean the poll was conducted in part after Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-SC) bill banning most abortions past 15-weeks was introduced last Tuesday. As Guy and I have highlighted in our pieces about focusing on abortion versus other issues, Sen. Graham has faced some criticism, including from those in his own party, for focusing on abortion. That being said, inflation still looks to be the more important issue. 

Further, when it comes to the overall message of Guy's piece, how "New Polls Demonstrate Why Republicans Would Be Fools to Disengage from Abortion Debate," it's actually the Republican Party's position that Americans agree with when it comes to supporting commonsense abortion restrictions. The Democratic Party's position of unlimited abortion throughout all nine months for any reason without legal limit is actually the position that voters find extreme.


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