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Public equally concerned about Biden's and Trump's classified documents, new poll finds

A new NBC News poll also finds challenges for Biden and congressional Republicans as the 2024 election cycle begins.
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An equal number of Americans — 67% — say they are as concerned about classified documents found at President Joe Biden’s residence and former office as they are about those found at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home, despite clear differences in how the two men responded to these discoveries. 

In addition, half of Americans disapprove of the job President Biden is doing and give him low marks on uniting the country, as well as on having the necessary mental and physical health to be president — even after a string of recent political and legislative victories. 

And majorities believe the new Republican-controlled House of Representatives will be too inflexible in dealing with Biden and will spend too much time investigating the president instead of focusing on other priorities. 

These are the major findings of a national NBC News poll conducted at the beginning of the new 118th Congress, ahead of Biden’s upcoming State of the Union address and after news of classified documents that were found at Biden’s and Trump’s private residences.

The survey also underscores just how little has changed since last November’s midterm elections, and just how dissatisfied the public remains as the 2024 presidential campaign begins to take shape.

“The calendar may read 2023, but you’d excuse someone if they continue to see 2022 in the country’s outlook and in our politics,” said Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies. 

“Elections are supposed to act as a chance to refresh and reset, and that did not happen,” McInturff adds.

The poll finds an American public that’s equally concerned about the discovery of classified documents found at Biden’s and Trump’s homes, even though the current president and ex-president handled their situations in different ways. 

(Biden and his lawyers have argued that they turned over these classified documents — from his time as Barack Obama’s vice president — as soon as they were discovered and have cooperated with investigators, while Trump failed turn over all requested documents and has lashed out at investigators.)

Sixty-seven percent of Americans say it’s concerning that classified documents were found at Biden’s former office and personal home, including 33% who say it’s “very” concerning; 18% say it’s not too concerning or concerning at all.

An identical 67% say it’s concerning that classified information was found at Trump’s residence, with 36% saying it’s “very” concerning and 20% who say it’s not concerning to them. 

Strikingly, a majority of Democrats (52%) say they’re concerned about Biden’s classified documents, while a majority of Republicans (53%) are concerned about Trump’s. 

“Neither president gets a pass from their partisans,” said McInturff, the GOP pollster. 

The NBC News poll was conducted Jan. 20-24, so mostly before the Jan. 24 news that small number of classified documents were found at former Vice President Mike Pence’s home. 

Little change in Biden’s standing — and in the public’s sour mood

Despite a series of legislative wins, positive economic news and a better-than-expected midterm election, President Biden’s standing with the public is essentially unchanged from November, the NBC News poll shows. 

His overall job rating among all adults stands at 45% approve, 50% disapprove. 

Among registered voters, it’s 46% approve, 50% disapprove — essentially unchanged from the 44% approve, 53% disapprove it was right before last November’s midterm elections. 

What’s more, 36% of all adults approve of the president’s handling of the economy (down from 40% among registered voters in September 2022), and 41% approve of his handling of foreign policy (it was 42% among registered voters last September). 

Maybe most troubling for Biden in the poll are his presidential attributes. He gets his highest marks for being easygoing and likable (45% of all adults give Biden a positive score here) and for being knowledgeable and experienced enough to handle the presidency (42% give him a positive rating). 

But his lowest marks come on being honest and trustworthy (34%), having the ability to handle a crisis (32%), being competent and effective as president (31%), having the necessary mental and physical health to be president (28%) and uniting the country (23%).

Many of these scores are down significantly from when Biden first took office, according to the poll. 

“Since January 2021, Biden has dropped 17 points on uniting the country, 15 points on his ability to handle a crisis, 13 points on being knowledgeable and experienced enough to handle the presidency, and 9 points on being honest and trustworthy,” said Horwitt, the Democratic pollster.

What also stands out in the survey is the public’s continued sour mood: 71% believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction (essentially unchanged from the 72% who said this in November), and 64% say their family’s income is falling behind the cost of living (63% said this in Sept. 2022).

No honeymoon for new GOP-controlled House

As for the new Republican-led House majority, 54% of adults in the NBC News poll say congressional Republicans will be too inflexible in dealing with President Biden, versus 28% who say they’ll strike the right balance and another 10% who say they’ll give in too quickly.

That’s compared with 45% of all respondents who think Biden will be too inflexible with Republicans; 35% who say he’ll strike the right balance; and 11% who believe he’ll give in too quickly. 

Additionally, 55% of Americans say congressional Republicans will spend too much time investigating Biden and not enough time on other priorities, while a combined 63% have no to little confidence that Congress will conduct a fair and impartial investigation into Biden and his administration. 

Just 27% of respondents have a favorable view of congressional Republicans, compared with 36% who have a favorable view of congressional Democrats and 39% who have a favorable view of Biden.

And when asked who they prefer taking the lead role in setting policy for the country, 48% of Americans pick Biden, versus 45% who want congressional Republicans in charge. 

What Congress should consider vs. what it shouldn’t consider

Finally, the NBC News poll tested seven different policy ideas the new Congress could consider. 

The most popular ideas: providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements (80% say Congress should do this), taking a harder line against China (75% say Congress should act) and addressing immigration by increasing border security (72%). 

The least popular: making cuts to the defense budget (31% support) and passing legislation that place additional restrictions on abortion (26%). 

Americans are split on providing more funding and weapons to Ukraine, with 49% believing Congress should do this, versus 47% saying it shouldn’t.

The NBC News poll was conducted Jan. 20-24 of 1,000 adults — 823 reached by cell phone — and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points. 

The margin of error of the 810 registered voters the poll surveyed is plus-minus 3.4 percentage points.