Key Takeaways from June 2023 NBC Survey

Below, please find the results from the latest NBC News national poll conducted from June 16-20, 2023, among 1,000 voters + an oversample to get to a total of 500 Republican Primary Voters.  The topline results of the poll can be found HERE.

The big picture numbers in this survey point to the continuation of a nation deeply dissatisfied, looking for a new course, and with concerns about the mental and physical well-being of the president.  But the survey also suggests that Joe Biden is actually in better shape than his leading challenger, Donald Trump, who is currently dominating the primary field.  To break this down in Eras Tour terms, America is stuck on Midnights, dressed in black and in a haze of discontent.

  • 74% say the country is off on the wrong track, and this is the 9th out of 10 tracks going back to October 2021 where more than 7 in 10 Americans have felt this way.  Going back to the NBC News poll’s founding in 1989, we have never uncovered a sustained period of stagnation like this.

Flatlined: The direction of the country remains very negative

  • President Biden’s job rating remains in the low 40s, at 43%, and has not reached 50 percent since August 2021.
  • 55% have MAJOR concerns about Joe Biden not having the necessary mental and physical health to be president.

In normal times, these would be flashing red signs for an incumbent, but in 2023, for Joe Biden, it is more about shaking it off and reminding the American people who he isn’t, more than who he is.  Three key datapoints here underscore that Donald Trump is in worse position than Joe Biden, despite Biden’s weak position:

  • Trump’s personal ratings are worse (34% positive, 56% negative) than Biden’s (39% positive, 48% negative).
  • When focused on how much concern they have about another term for each one, 51% say they have MAJOR concerns about Trump compared to 46% who have MAJOR concerns about Biden.  Among independents, 54% have MAJOR concerns about Trump compared to 41% for Biden.
  • Joe Biden leads Donald Trump by 4 points, matching Biden’s margin of victory in 2020.

Looking back at 2020, the election was a referendum on Donald Trump.  And if we have a Biden-Trump re-match, there are powerful signs that the focus will once again be more on Trump than Biden.  In 2020, Biden won more because of who he wasn’t than who he was.  We should never forget that.  And due to the unique profile of Donald Trump, his failure to accept defeat, his role in the January 6th riot, his plans for a re-match, and his ongoing legal woes, unlike any other former president in recent memory, he never really went away as the dominant figure in American politics.  And Biden remains as he was in that context in the eyes of many voters, the foil to Trump’s anti-hero.

Despite the recent federal charges filed against Trump, the news inside the bubble of the Republican Primary is much better for him, and arguably his standing has IMPROVED since the indictment.  Overall, nearly half of all voters (47%) say they have major concerns about these charges, but that’s just 16% for Republican primary voters.  64% of Republican primary voters believe the charges are politically motivated and Republicans need to stick with Trump.

And in looking at our sample of 500 Republican Primary voters, not only are they sticking with Trump post Federal indictment, there are several signs that his support is growing and/or others are losing ground, particularly Ron DeSantis.

  • Trump’s lead over DeSantis and the rest of the Republican field has increased from 15 points in April (46% to 31%) to 29 points today (51% to 22%).  Once again, there is no other candidate that gets into double digits.
  • In the combined 1st/2nd choice, Trump continues to receive the support of more than 3 in 5 Republican Primary voters (63% now, 66% in April), while DeSantis has dropped 11 points, from 64% to 53%.  Unfortunately, for the rest of the Republican field, DeSantis’ decline has not really coalesced around any other candidate.
    • And more troubling for DeSantis is WHERE he is losing ground -- with the core of the core Republican Primary Voters -- older and very conservative voters.
  • Yes, there is a subset of Republican Primary Voters who are troubled by Trump and want a new leader, but he dominates the nearly half of the primary electorate that is strongly with him, and the much smaller never Trump branch of the party currently is a constituency in search of a leader.

Republican primary voters views on the future of the GOP and where Trump fits in

  • And it is striking that the two Republican candidates who have attempted to own the new leader vote are both net negative with Republican Primary Voters – Mike Pence (-4) and Chris Christie (-27), and are just barely ahead of Trump with this group of voters.   On a side note, Chris Christie may attempt to be a debate Wrecking Ball for Donald Trump, but he has hit the Trifecta of Terrible among voters across the political spectrum.  He is nearly 3 to 1 negative with Democrats (14% positive, 47% negative), independents (13% positive, 41% negative), and Republicans (14% positive, 41% negative).

Turning back outside the bubble of the Republican Primary electorate points to major challenges ahead for the nominee, with particularly large gaps on positions that are front and center in the Republican Primary debate.  Most notably, the abortion issue, which dominated the 2022 election, has not faded away.  And while Republicans are taking more extreme positions, voters remain as resolute in their disapproval of last year’s SCOTUS ruling.

This leads to historically high levels of negative feelings towards the Supreme Court, and should be considered as they are about to issue rulings at the end of this year’s term on contentious issues, including affirmative action.

The United States Supreme Court Image

So, whether the nominee is Trump or someone else, the positions that many Republican candidates are taking reveal signs that the nominee could very easily win the battle but lose the war come the general election.

And if Trump is the nominee, the data here show that on top of the damaging policy positions, Republicans will be paying a sin tax, or a Trump Tax.  And this tax is not paid equally, but instead hurts Republicans where it matters most and where elections are won or lost, in the middle.  The following are groups where Trump lags behind DeSantis more than he does overall (-4):

Independents (-12)

    • Biden Somewhat Disapprovers (-10)
    • Middle Class (-9)
    • Swing States (-8)
    • 35-49-year-olds (-8)
    • White suburban women (-7)

Those who somewhat disapprove of the job that Biden is doing were particularly important in the 2022 midterm elections, and promise to be so in 2024 as well.  They make up 9% of the electorate and are slightly more likely to be Republican on party ID (33% DEM, 37% GOP) but voted for Biden in 2020 over Trump in self-reported vote 43% to 35%.  And the 8-point advantage actually increases in the 2024 matchup, with Biden leading by 11-points (50% to 39%).  However, against Ron DeSantis, Biden is in a statistical dead heat with this critical group.  Listening to these Best Of What’s Around Biden Voters (or BOWAs, side note, Larry Bowa wasn’t Ozzie Smith, but he was a VERY underrated shortstop, 5x All-Star, 2x Gold Glove Winner, 1 World Series) in their own words makes clear, the decision they are struggling with in a Biden-Trump rematch.  Here are the words of two BOWAs talking about why they are voting for Biden even though they disapprove of the job that he is doing as president.

An independent BOWA Biden Voter says:

“The leading factor would be moral compass. Donald Trump lacks moral compass. Joe Biden somewhat has a moral compass. That was it. Moral compass means doing the right thing all of the time, not somewhat of the time, and not when it is just convenient for you. Of the two options I am given, I believe Joe Biden is willing to be bipartisan and Donald Trump is completely partisan and only does what his party wants. The moral compass and the ability to be bipartisan as opposed to partisan.”

A lean Republican BOWA Biden Voter says:

“I somewhat disapprove of Biden, but I wholly disapprove of Trump. Even though I lean Republican, you could not pay me to vote for Donald Trump. I think Donald Trump is the worst thing to happen to this country in 50 years.”

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