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Democrats catch up to GOP on enthusiasm in final NBC News poll before midterms

But voters remain sour on Biden, the economy and the nation’s direction.

The final national NBC News poll of the 2022 midterms finds a highly competitive campaign landscape ahead of Election Day. While Democrats have pulled even with Republicans in enthusiasm, President Joe Biden remains unpopular, and voters express deep dissatisfaction about the state of the country. 

Forty-eight percent of likely voters say they prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress as the outcome of Tuesday’s elections, while 47% prefer a Republican-controlled Congress. 

That’s a reversal from October, when 48% preferred a GOP-controlled Congress versus 47% who wanted Democrats in charge, although the shift is well within the poll’s margin of error. 

Among all registered voters, congressional preference is tied at 47%-47% — essentially unchanged from last month, when Democrats held a narrow 1-point edge, 47%-46%. 

Yet what has changed in the poll is that Democrats have caught up to Republicans in election interest. An identical 73% of Democrats and Republicans express high interest, registering either a “9” or “10” on a 10-point scale. 

In October’s NBC News poll, Republicans held a 9-point advantage in high voter interest, 78% to 69%, after Democrats had previously closed the enthusiasm gap following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. 

Still, the overall political environment remains grim for Democrats. Only 44% of voters approve of President Biden’s job performance, while 53% disapprove; more than 70% think the country is headed in the wrong direction; and a combined 81% say they are “very” or “somewhat” dissatisfied with the U.S. economy. 

What’s more, 47% of all voters say they want a “great deal” of change in direction from the way in which Biden has been leading the country — higher than what the poll showed for the first midterms for Donald Trump (44%), Barack Obama (41%) and Bill Clinton (36%), all of which resulted in midterm election drubbings for those past presidents.

“President Biden and the Democrats are in for a miserable election,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies, who conducted this survey with Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt and his team at Hart Research Associates. 

“The Democrats have to run way ahead of the president to win a statewide race,” said McInturff. “I would expect to see to see a large number of losses in the House and possibly a switch in control of the Senate.”

But Horwitt counters that, despite those traditional midterm fundamentals, Democrats have made this election competitive, which could save Democrats in some contests.

“In January, if you told me that the national political dynamics would not improve but Democrats had a fighting chance to avert a typical first midterm shellacking, I’d take it,” he said.  

“And here we are,” Horwitt added. 

‘Threats to democracy,’ economy rank as top midterm issues

When voters were asked what they consider the nation’s most important issue, 23% answered with “threats to democracy,” 20% said jobs and the economy, and 17% replied with the cost of living — consistent with past NBC News polls.

But when asked which set of issues was more important in deciding their vote, 50% of voters said a candidate’s position on abortion, threats to democracy and addressing the cost of living by raising taxes on corporations (which largely has been the Democratic message).  

That’s compared with 44% who picked a candidate’s position on crime, the situation at the border and addressing the cost of living by cutting government spending (largely the Republican message).

And when asked which one issue was more important in deciding their vote — a candidate’s position on the cost of living, or a candidate’s position on abortion — 58% of voters said cost of living, while 38% said abortion.

Independents, swing-state voters down on Biden

The final NBC News poll before the elections shows 44% of registered voters approving of President Biden’s job performance — down 1 point from October.

By contrast, 53% say they disapprove, which is up 1 point from a month ago.

Biden’s 44% approval rating is similar to the standings for former Presidents Barack Obama (45%) and Donald Trump (46%) in the final NBC News/WSJ poll before their first midterm election when their party lost control of at least one chamber of Congress.

Biden enjoys his highest ratings among Black voters (78% approve of his job), Latinos (52%), urban voters (50%) and women (48%).

But his lowest numbers are among suburban voters (43%), men (38%), white voters (37%), rural voters (29%) and independents (28%).

Among voters living in the 2020 presidential swing states, his approval rating is 40%.

Additionally, the poll finds a whopping 72% of voters believing the country is headed in the wrong direction, versus just 21% who think it’s on the right track.

And a combined 81% of voters say they are either “very” dissatisfied (50%) or “somewhat” dissatisfied (31%) with the state of the economy, while a combined 19% are either “very” satisfied (3%) or “somewhat” satisfied (16%).

Other findings

  • 38% of all voters say they’ve already voted, either by mail (19%) or early in person (19%), another 13% say they plan to vote early, and 45% say they will be voting at the polls on Election Day.
  • Former President Barack Obama is the most popular figure measured in the poll (at 51% positive, 37% negative) — followed by President Biden (42% positive, 50% negative), the Democratic Party (38% positive, 47% negative), the Republican Party (35% positive, 48% negative) and former President Donald Trump (35% positive, 55% negative).
  • And voters are divided on their choice of the bigger concern about the upcoming election -- 47% are more concerned that Republicans will take control of Congress and make the wrong kinds of changes, versus 45% who are more concerned that Democrats will continue to control Congress and not make enough change.

The NBC News poll was conducted Nov. 3-5 of 1,000 registered voters — 804 of whom were reached by cell phone — and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points. 

The margin of error for the poll’s 786 likely voters is plus-minus 3.5 percentage points.