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Biden’s polling is in more dangerous territory than Obama’s in 2011

First Read is your briefing from the NBC News Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
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Happening this Monday: Hamas releases more Israeli hostages over the weekend, including 4-year-old American Abigail Edan… Police arrest 48-year-old man in connection of Vermont shooting of three U.S. students of Palestinian descent… President Biden, at the White House, delivers remarks on the supply chain at 2:00 pm ET… Nikki Haley campaigns in South Carolina… And here’s one way Donald Trump is fighting history: Election losers usually lose the rematch, too.

But FIRST… There’s one big problem with all the talk comparing President Joe Biden’s standing in the 2023 polls with Barack Obama’s in 2011. 

Biden’s current numbers are in more dangerous territory for an incumbent than Obama’s ever were at this same point in time. 

For one thing, Obama held a consistent lead over GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney in the polls — minus a few exceptions immediately after the debt-ceiling crisis — until that first general-election debate. 

In fact, our national November 2011 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed Obama leading Romney by 6 points, compared to our latest NBC News poll finding Donald Trump ahead of Biden by 2 points, which is well within the poll’s margin of error.

What’s more, our same November 2011 poll had Obama ahead of a generic Republican, versus our November 2023 poll showing Biden trailing a generic Republican by double digits. 

Biden also has a lower approval rating — and higher disapproval rating — in our polling than Obama ever had during his first term. 

And then there was Obama’s standing with key parts of the Democratic base in November 2011: +86 points over Romney among Black voters (92% to 6%), and +17 points among voters ages 18 to 34 (54% to 37%). 

 That compares with Biden’s +49 among Black voters versus Trump in our latest NBC News poll (69% to 20%), and Trump being +4 among voters 18 to 34 (46% to 42%).

Yes, Obama hit a first-term low in the summer/fall of 2011 after the debt-ceiling crisis. Yes, the New York Times Magazine ran a November 2011 cover story with the headline “Is Obama Toast?” And, yes, our recent presidential elections have all been close — or gotten close at one point or another. 

But you can’t say, as some Democrats have been doing, that Obama had been behind Romney at this same point in time, too. 

“That simply isn’t true,” as CNN’s Harry Enten recently wrote. “In fact, the lone incumbent to be behind in the polls at this point is the man Biden succeeded and is likely to face again: Trump, who trailed Biden by about 10 points in November 2019.”

Headline of the day

The number of the day is … 16

That’s the number of times that rematch elections for Senate and governor ended in a different result the second time around in 69 rematch elections at the statewide level since 1950, an NBC News analysis found.

The trend paints a grim picture for former President Donald Trump as the potential for a rematch election with President Joe Biden next year becomes more and more likely.

Still, though history can be a guide, it doesn’t always paint a picture of certainty. 

“Trump is unique. We’ve never had a situation like this. … It’s a historic first,” David Karol, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, told NBC News. 

Despite being out of office, Trump holds many of the same advantages granted to an incumbent president, like Biden, Karol said. The advantages include an established record as an executive and a base of voters that have already voted to elect Trump at least once.

Eyes on 2024: Drama in DeSantis World

Tensions among Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ top allies have reached a boiling point in recent weeks, with two leaders nearly getting into a physical altercation at a recent meeting, NBC’s Dasha Burns, Matt Dixon, Natasha Korecki and Jonathan Allen report.

The leaders of the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down clashed at a recent meeting over the group’s strategy to combat former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley after the group found that its attacks on her were not only not working, but also starting to backfire on DeSantis. After NBC News reported on the drama last week, the super PAC’s CEO Chris Jankowski stepped down.

And three DeSantis allies launched another super PAC, Fight Right Inc., to take on Haley. The group’s first ad attempts to tie Haley to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, per NBC’s Ali Vitali.

Never Back Down, meanwhile, has continued to spend on the airwaves and on campaign trail events that feature the governor. The group launched a new 30-second TV ad last week featuring Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds talking about her decision to endorse DeSantis.

The Florida governor picked up another high-profile endorsement in Iowa less than two months before the caucuses. Last week, evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats endorsed DeSantis, per NBC’s Alec Hernández and Alex Tabet.

In other campaign news … 

Shapiro’s take: Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro sat down with NBC’s Allan Smith to discuss the presidential race, attributing President Joe Biden’s apparent struggles against former President Donald Trump in potential rematches to voter “brain fog” about the Trump presidency

Haley’s challenge: The New York Times delves into the coalition of GOP voters Haley has to bring together to have a shot at beating Trump. The Times also writes that wealthy GOP donors “have begun gravitating toward Ms. Haley and, in some cases, digging deeper into their pockets to help her.”

Money woes: The Republican National Committee recently reported its lowest cash-on-hand number since February 2015, raising GOP concerns about the party’s financial strength, per the Washington Post.

On the trail: Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy is encouraging voters during his campaign events to ask him about foreign policy, NBC’s Alex Tabet and Katherine Koretski report. 

Talkin’ ‘bout my generation: Biden’s staunch support for Israel amid its war with Hamas has threatened his support among some young voters, per the Washington Post. 

Trump talk: With a gag order temporarily lifted in his civil fraud case, Trump again attacked the judge in the case and the judge’s law clerk

Eyes on the prize: Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., is staying focused on his longshot presidential bid, announcing on Friday that he will not be running for re-election to Congress

Immigration politics: Voters’ support for tougher immigration enforcement “could test how far hard-liners can go in 2024 with anti-immigrant proposals,” writes NBC’s Suzanne Gamboa, who delves into Trump’s immigration proposals. 

Staying in the race: Hill Harper, a Democrat running for Senate in Michigan, said he was offered millions by a businessman and political donor to drop out of the Senate race and instead mount a primary challenge against Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., the New York Times reports.

A new House lawmaker: Republican Celeste Maloy won a Utah special congressional election to replace her former boss, former Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, who left office in September.

Seeking to expand their winning streak: Abortion rights groups are seeking to place measures to protect abortion rights on the ballot in nine states in 2024 after a winning streak at the ballot, per NBC’s Adam Edelman. 

Echoes of history: NBC’s Chuck Todd examines the turbulent election year of 1968 as a guide for what is shaping up to be another tense election year in 2024.

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world

President Biden is advocating for an extension to a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, after 26 Israeli hostages and several hostages of other nationalities, including Americans and Thai nationals, were released by Hamas during the four-day pause in fighting.

A woman is seeking at least $5 million in damages, alleging in a legal summons that New York City Mayor Eric Adams sexually assaulted her in 1993. Adams’ office denies the claims.

CORRECTION (Dec. 1, 9:39 a.m. ET): A previous version of this edition of First Read accidentally misidentified the first name of CNN's Harry Enten. We regret the error. (Sorry, Harry!)