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Poll finds 71% of Americans believe country is on wrong track

First Read is your briefing from “Meet the Press” and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
The American Flag displayed prior to a game between the Miami Marlins and the Atlanta Braves in Atlanta
The American Flag displayed prior to a game between the Miami Marlins and the Atlanta Braves in Atlanta, on July 4, 2021. Jeff Robinson / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — If it’s Monday ... Demonstrations, calls for reform follow release of video showing brutal police beating of Tyre Nichols. ... Nichols’ parents set to attend next week’s State of the Union address. ... Biden travels to Baltimore to tout bipartisan infrastructure law as part of his events gearing up for the State of the Union. ... A new NBC News poll shows American public equally concerned about discovered Biden, Trump classified documents. ... And Donald Trump returns to the campaign trail.

But first: The 71% of Americans in our latest NBC News poll saying the country is headed in the wrong direction is the eighth time in the last nine NBC News surveys dating back to Oct. 2021 when the wrong track has been above 70%.

And the one exception was in Sept. 2022, when it was 68%.

We have never before seen this level of sustained pessimism in the 30-year-plus history of the poll.

Including during the 1992 recession, when a year of NBC/WSJ polls had the wrong track between 67% and 71% before improving right after the presidential election.

Or the Great Recession of 2008, when Barack Obama’s election and inauguration ended a year of NBC/WSJ polls of the wrong track being near or above 70%.

But this current pessimism has been going on for nearly a year and a half — even after an election. 

“Elections are supposed to act as a chance to refresh and reset, and that did not happen [after the 2022 midterms],” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff, the GOP half of the NBC News poll.

What’s more, when our poll asked respondents how they feel about where America is headed over the next year, 69% gave negative words and phrases, versus 23% who had positive ones.

That’s a change from two years ago, right before President Biden’s inauguration, when just 52% had negative words and phrases on this question.

This might be Biden’s biggest challenge ahead of his State of the Union address next month.

How does he convince the public that America is headed in the right direction?

After the recent mass shootings? And after the death of Tyre Nichols?

Quote of the day: On the video of the Tyre Nichols fatal beating

“I just want to say: This was such a horrific and terrible video. It is so, it’s so problematic that we see these officers tying their shoes, not rendering medical aid. It seems to me that this is ordinary. It is terrible, but it’s also very familiar. So to me, I’m struggling to cover this because I really do see this and think to myself, “How many other people have been in this situation?”

NBC News Washington Correspondent Yamiche Alcindor on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.”

Data Download: The number of the day is … 67

That’s how many minutes of video the city of Memphis released Friday night showing the fatal assault of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police officers. The city released four videos — three from officer-worn body cameras and one from a surveillance camera.  

“The videos depicted Nichols being punched, struck with a baton, seemingly kicked in the face and sprayed with an irritant. They also captured him crying out for his mother and saying he was trying to go home,” NBC News’ Phil Helsel, Doha Madani and Marlene Lenthang write. 

The brutal assault has sparked outrage and prompted renewed conversations about the need for police reform. President Joe Biden said he was “outraged and deeply pained” after watching the video. Nichols’ parents will attend Biden’s State of the Union address next week, Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Steven Horsford, D-Nev., announced on MSNBC’s Politics Nation with Al Sharpton. 

Other numbers to know:

79: The number of deaths from mass shootings so far this year, as activists wonder why federal legislators don’t take action against guns.

45%: The share of adults who approve of President Biden’s job in the latest NBC News poll.

More than $50 billion: The amount of money the federal government will start spending for semiconductor manufacturing, as allocated in the CHIPS Act signed into law last year. 

6 years: The amount of time a Jan. 6 defendant was sentenced to prison for attacking Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who later died, during the attack on the Capitol.

At least 28: The number of people killed by a suicide bomber at a mosque in the city of Peshawar, in Pakistan. 

Up to 10 years: The amount of time a North Carolina man could serve in prison for making bomb threats during an hours-long standoff with police on Capitol Hill in August 2021.

7.3%: The increase in Covid deaths in the U.S. over the last two weeks, as hospitalizations due to Covid went down by 22.8% over the last two weeks, according to an NBC News analysis of data. 

Eyes on 2024: Trump hits the campaign trail

And away we go.  

Two months after former President Donald Trump announced his presidential bid, this past weekend marked the first featuring the real trappings of a campaign — early-state travel and intra-party pugilism. 

Trump visited New Hampshire (where he criticized the prosecution of former Trump Organization CEO Allen Weisselberg) and South Carolina (where he stood alongside top Republicans in the state and declared that “Joe Biden has brought us to the brink of World War III”).

In a sign of what’s to come, Trump also took a swing at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, arguing that he’s “trying to rewrite history” on his response to the pandemic, noting that DeSantis “closed the beaches and everything.” (Reports this weekend show DeSantis and his inner circle preparing for a possible presidential bid.) 

Back on the Sunday shows, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu panned Trump’s New Hampshire speech as a “mundane” one that “stuck to his talking points,” reiterating he’s considering a White House bid of his own during a CNN interview

And ahead of his own trip to New Hampshire to meet with Republicans, former Texas Rep. Will Hurd dipped his toes into the 2024 waters, telling Fox News: “I always have an open mind about how to serve my country.” 

In other campaign news:

Republican reckoning: RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel’s re-election on Friday is unlikely to quiet infighting within the GOP, NBC News’ Allan Smith reports from the committee’s winter meeting, where Republicans disagreed about why they underperformed in last year’s midterms. Smith also delves into whether McDaniel can truly remain neutral in the 2024 presidential primary. 

Santos saga continues: Both parties are preparing for a potential special election if embattled Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., decides to step down, Politico reports. Meanwhile, the Federal Election Commission is asking Santos to clarify the identity of his campaign treasurer, after the person listed on his campaign finance reports denied holding the position. But the Washington Post reports that the Justice Department has asked the FEC “to hold off on any enforcement action” against Santos as it conducts a criminal investigation.  

In the Grand Canyon State: Arizona Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego held the first events of his Senate campaign over the weekend. Republican Kari Lake, who is weighing her own run for Senate after losing last year’s race for governor, held a rally where she insisted November’s election was stolen. Former President Donald Trump called into the rally, saying of Lake, ““Ultimately, she’s going to be victorious,” per NBC News’ Vaughn Hillyard. And Arizona Republicans elected former Trump aide Jeff DeWitt as their state party chairman. 

Beshear readies for re-election: The Associated Press reports on how Kentucky Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear is framing his administration’s accomplishments ahead of his re-election bid this fall

In the Hart-land: Iowa Democrats tapped former state Sen. Rita Hart as their new party chair (Hart narrowly lost her congressional race in 2020 against now-Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks by just six votes). 

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

President Biden plans to meet with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday to discuss the debt ceiling.

Footage of the attack on Paul Pelosi by a home intruder last year was made public on Friday.

President Biden’s notebooks were among the materials seized by the FBI during a search at his Delaware home, NBC News’ Carol E. Lee, Sarah Fitzpatrick and Peter Nicholas report. And NBC News’ Natasha Korecki and Jonathan Allen profile Bob Bauer and Anita Dunn, the couple at the center of Biden’s strategy to handle the classified documents scandal.