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November 2023 NBC News Poll: Mourning in America

Here are the results from the latest NBC News national poll conducted from November 10-14, 2023, among 1,000 voters.  The topline results of the poll can be found HERE.  

As the end of the year approaches, it is important to try and put the year in context.  Simply put, 2023 has been a year of Mourning in America.  The NBC News Poll tells the story.

And while, it appears that another government shutdown has been averted, is has come with Capitol Hill looking more like an episode of WWE’s Smackdown than C-SPAN.  More members of Congress are running away from the Hill in the form of retirements than believing that we are a city on a hill.

 Against this backdrop it is remarkable that when it comes to assessing their own standing at this stage in their life, Americans are slightly on the positive side – 29% say they are doing better than they expected at this stage of their life, 27% worse than expected, and 43% say they are doing about as well as they expected.  What is very telling about the results here on both sides of the coin are how much financial considerations impact how Americans are feeling about their life.

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In normal times, it would be safe to say that a year from now, we will know who has won the presidential election.  But these are not normal times.  And so a year out, we should tread lightly on what this poll tells us for what may come.  Jury verdicts in Trump’s trials, unforeseen events both foreign and domestic, and the rigors of a campaign all have a funny way of upending what may be true today.

What is fair is at this stage is that Joe Biden is at a uniquely low point in his presidency, and a significant part of this, especially within the Biden coalition, is due to how Americans are viewing his foreign policy actions.  

  • Biden’s overall job rating is 40%, the lowest point of his presidency.  Biden’s job rating is below 80% with Democrats, a danger zone, and 2:1 disapprove with independents. 
  • Biden’s personal ratings have also declined.  Notably, Biden had always been viewed more positively than Donald Trump, until now.
Biden Trump
January 2021 44/40 40/53
January 2022 39/48 37/51
January 2023: 39/46 32/53
November 2023: 36/53 36/52
  • Somewhat disapprovers: a critical group that we have documented, who voted Democratic in the 2022 elections and had been with Biden until now, have moved away from him. 

  • And most notably, Joe Biden’s job rating on handling foreign policy has declined by 8 points since September.

In assessing public opinion in 2023, most Americans do not focus on issues beyond our shores.  Except when they do.  And this is one of those times.  As was the case during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, President Biden’s ratings have been negatively impacted by the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.  What is different this time is that the impact is disproportionately focused on parts of the Biden coalition, particularly younger voters.

 Indeed, the most alarming numbers in this poll come from 18-34-year-olds.

  • Overall job rating: 15 POINT DROP among 18-34-year-olds since September, 46% (5 points HIGHER than overall),  now 31% (9 points LOWER than overall)
  • Foreign policy job rating: 25 POINT DROP among 18-34-year-olds since September, 48% (7 points HIGHER than overall), now 23% (10 points lower than overall)
  • It is telling that Biden’s economic ratings have not really moved both with the overall electorate and younger voters—among 18-34-year-olds: 38% in September (1 point higher than overall), and 35% now (3 points lower).
  • Biden’s personal ratings among 18-34-year-olds have gone from net positive to net negative: In September, 40% positive, 35% negative (15 points HIGHER than the overall), now 26% positive, 53% negative (10 points LOWER than the overall).
  • And this has a MAJOR impact on the Biden-Trump trial heat.
65+ Biden +9 (50/41) Biden +12 (53/41)
50-64 Trump +14 (38/52) Trump +11 (41/52)
35-59  Trump +19 (36/55) Trump +9 (38/47)
18-34 Biden +23 (57/34) Trump +4 (42/46)

There is evidence that TikTok COULD be a factor here.  Fully 41% of 18-34 year-olds use TikTok at least once a day.  Among 18-34-year-olds who use TikTok daily, on party ID, they identify as Democrats by a 19-point margin compared to just 3 points for non-TikTok users.  But among TikTok users, Biden only leads by 2 points.  So, he is underperforming.  And even though TikTok users are a more Democratic group, Biden’s ratings are lower compared to non-TikTok users on several measures, most notably his overall job rating and his job rating on Israel-Hamas.  Young TikTok users are notably less supportive than non-TikTok users of funding and military aid for Taiwan and Israel, and less likely to believe that Israel has been justified in its response to Hamas.

The good news, if there is good news in this poll for President Biden, is that

  1. voters remain more focused on Donald Trump in their vote;
  2. for those Democrats who disapprove of Biden, their concerns are not personal, not about his age, but about policies – specifically failure to address student loans and being too supportive of Israel and its response, and
  3. while voters disapprove of Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, it is not a single voting issue that is driving decisions while abortion and democracy remain defining issues.  

Broadly, Americans are on the side of Israel, but there are huge divisions by generation here, including on providing more funding for humanitarian aid to Gaza and more funding and military aid to Israel respectively.  And on other funding related issues, majorities support funding for border security, aid for Ukraine, and Taiwan, but beyond Taiwan, there are partisan gaps on these items, which suggests a challenging road ahead.

On the Republican Primary, as some candidates begin to drop out, the big picture story is that Donald Trump continues to hold a commanding lead at the national level.  His support has remained as strong as it was in September.  The battle for a very distant second place has tightened, with Nikki Haley gaining ground in each track, and now within 5 points of DeSantis.  Still, if they combined their vote share, at 31%, they would still trail Trump by 27 points.

While the poll documents all that ails America in 2023, two figures stand out as bright spots.  With near universal name ID and personal ratings the envy of any national political figure, Beyoncè and Taylor Swift, have the ability and influence to reach Americans in ways that our national political leaders cannot.  They may tell us to look back at 2023 and advise us all to respectively put the year “in a box to the left” and “shake it off” to get ready for a wild ride in 2024.