Ahead of the midterm elections, the GOP leads in congressional preference, but Democrats catch up in enthusiasm.
August 21, 2022 — By Mark Murray
WASHINGTON — A clear majority of American voters believe that the various investigations into alleged wrongdoing by former President Donald Trump should continue, according to a national NBC News poll conducted after the FBI searched Trump’s Florida home and recovered documents marked as “top secret” earlier this month.
The poll also shows a dissatisfied public, with three-quarters of voters saying the county is headed in the wrong direction, a record 58% who say that America’s best years are behind it and 61% who say they’re willing to carry a protest sign for a day because they’re so upset.
And it paints a mixed picture of the 2022 midterm landscape, with President Joe Biden’s job rating mired in the low 40s, and with Republicans narrowly leading on congressional preference — but with Democrats nearly tying Republicans on voter enthusiasm — and with “threats to democracy” overtaking the cost of living as the top issue facing the country for voters.
“Politically, for Joe Biden and Democrats, the news is not all bad,” said Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies.
“Heading into Labor Day, the political dynamics could be worse [for Democrats], but they also need to get a lot better and fast,” he said.
McInturff, the GOP pollster, agrees that the environment has improved for Democrats since earlier this year. But he argues that the main fundamentals — the president’s job rating, the nation’s direction — are breaking against the party.
“America is singing the blues, and that is bad news for the blue team in November,” McInturff said.
The NBC News poll was conducted Aug. 12-16, during and after a tumultuous period for Donald Trump — when the FBI searched the former president’s Florida home, when Trump attorney and ally Rudy Giuliani revealed he is a “target” in the probe of alleged election interference in Georgia, and as a former Trump business executive pleaded guilty for tax fraud.
According to the survey, 57% of registered voters say that the investigations into alleged wrongdoing by Trump should continue, while 40% say they should stop.
By party, 92% of Democratic voters, 61% of independents but only 21% of Republican voters think the investigations into Trump should continue.
While all voters who prefer the investigations continue rather than stop lead by 17 points, the margin holding Trump responsible for the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol is much smaller.
A combined 50% of voters say Trump is solely or mainly responsible for Jan. 6 — up 5 points since the May NBC News poll, before the House committee investigating the attack began holding multiple televised hearings.
That’s compared with a combined 49% saying Trump is only somewhat responsible or not responsible at all for Jan. 6, which is down 6 points from May.
Biden’s job rating remains in the low forties
The poll was also conducted after a strong stretch for President Biden, which included Congress passing climate and health care legislation and the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting that 528,000 jobs had been created last month.
But the survey doesn’t show a significant improvement in the president’s standing, with 42% of registered voters approving of Biden’s job performance and 55% disapproving.
In May, Biden’s job approval stood at 42% among registered voters and 39% among all adults.
The president enjoys his highest approval rating among Democrats (79%), Black voters (68%), urban residents (50%) and women (47%), while he has some of his lowest ratings among Latinos (40%), men (36%), those 18-34 (36%), rural residents (21%) and Republicans (7%).
On the issues, 40% approve of Biden’s handling of the economy (up 7 points among adults in May), and 39% give him a thumbs-up on foreign policy (down 3 points among adults).
Looking ahead to November’s midterm elections, 47% of registered voters prefer Republicans winning control of Congress, while 45% want Democrats in charge.
In May’s poll, the parties were tied on this question: 46%-46%.
Democrats close the enthusiasm gap
Despite Biden’s approval rating and the GOP’s lead in congressional preference (albeit within the poll’s margin of error), the NBC News survey shows an improvement for Democrats since earlier this year.
For one thing, Democrats have closed the enthusiasm gap.
According to the survey, 68% of Republicans express a high level of interest in the upcoming election — registering either a “9” or “10” on a 10-point scale — versus 66% for Democrats.
That 2-point GOP advantage is down from 17 points in March and 8 points in May.
The pollsters who conducted the survey attribute the increased Democratic enthusiasm to the June Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
“The Supreme Court ruling has shaken up the electorate,” said Horwitt, the Democratic pollster.
Indeed, the poll finds that 58% of voters disapprove of the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and ended the constitutional right to an abortion, compared with 38% who approve.
And the poll finds that “threats to democracy” has overtaken the “cost of living” as the most important issue facing the country, and that the climate and health care legislation Biden signed into law last week is more popular than unpopular (42% call it a good idea, while 31% say it is a bad idea).
Upset enough to carry a protest sign for an entire day
But hovering over the entire poll is a deep dissatisfaction from the American public.
Three-quarters of voters — 74% — say the country is headed in the wrong direction, representing the fifth-straight NBC News survey showing this number in the 70s.
Additionally, 58% believe America’s best days are behind it, which is the highest percentage on this question dating back to 1990.
Another 68% of voters think the United States is currently in an economic recession.
And six in 10 — 61% — say they’re so upset by something that they’re willing to carry a protest sign for an entire day.
Asked what their protest sign would say, the top responses among Democratic voters are “Women’s rights,” “Equal rights,” “Prosecute Trump” and “Abortion rights.”
And the top responses among Republican voters are “Impeach Biden,” “Protect our freedom,” “Protect 2nd Amendment,” and “Stop Democrats.”
The NBC News poll was conducted Aug. 12-16 of 1,000 registered voters — including 750 reached by cell phone — and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.
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Retired Gen. Michael Hayden, a former director of both the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, has called out the Republican Party as extremist and dangerous, on an unprecedented level.
Hayden was responding Wednesday to an Aug. 11 tweet by the British journalist and author Edward Luce, who had said: “I’ve covered extremism and violent ideologies around the world over my career. Have never come across a political force more nihilistic, dangerous & contemptible than today’s Republicans. Nothing close.”
Luce is the chief U.S. commentator for the Financial Times.
“I agree. And I was the CIA Director,” Hayden responded via quote-tweet.
The tweet sparked immediate debate online, and drew more than 35,000 “likes” in its first three hours.
Hayden, a retired Air Force general who was named director of the NSA during the Clinton administration and was then tapped as CIA director by President George W. Bush, was among five former top military officials who penned a USA Today op-ed last month warning that American democracy “is in real peril” following the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection and by the manner in which the Republican Party has embraced conspiracy theorists, 2020 election deniers and extremist elements.
Also see: Trump lost — 2020 election wasn’t stolen, group of ultraprominent conservatives says
“For those of us focused on domestic security, the forces of autocracy now trump traditional foreign threats, hands down,” the former military officials wrote, citing a study earlier this year that found one in three Americans believe violence against the government could be justified.
A number of prominent Republicans have also gone on record decrying the state of the Republican Party and Donald Trump’s ongoing influence over it. On Wednesday, Rep. Liz Cheney — who lost her Wyoming Republican primary Tuesday after vigorously opposing Trump — vowed to fight to prevent Trump from becoming president again.
“I am absolutely going to continue this battle,” she told NBC News. “It’s the most important thing I’ve ever been involved in, and I think it’s certainly the most important thing, challenge, that our nation has faced in recent history, and maybe since the Civil War. And it’s one that we must win.”
Separately, former Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday pleaded with fellow Republicans to tone down their rhetoric against the FBI following last week’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago private club in Palm Beach, Fla.
Law-enforcement officials have warned in recent days that angry words from Trump and his allies are putting agents, officers and federal employees at risk. Violent rhetoric may have contributed to at least two deadly encounters involving law enforcement over the past week.