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Poll: 20-point deficit on handling economy highlights Biden’s struggles against Trump

The president’s approval rating has fallen to a new low in NBC News polling, as Trump narrowly leads in a 2024 general election matchup.
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Despite a growing economy and little opposition for his party’s nomination, President Joe Biden confronts a dissatisfied electorate and a challenging political climate nine months before he faces re-election, according to a new national NBC News poll.

Biden trails GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump on major policy and personal comparisons, including by more than 20 points on which candidate would better handle the economy. And Biden’s deficit versus Trump on handling immigration and the border is greater than 30 points.

The poll also shows Trump holding a 16-point advantage over Biden on being competent and effective, a reversal from 2020, when Biden was ahead of Trump on this quality by 9 points before defeating him in that election.

And Biden’s approval rating has declined to the lowest level of his presidency in NBC News polling — to 37% — while fewer than 3 in 10 voters approve of his handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

All together, these numbers explain why the poll shows Trump leading Biden by 5 points among registered voters in a hypothetical 2024 general-election matchup, 47% to 42%. While the result is within the poll’s margin of error, the last year of polling shows a clear shift.

Perhaps the best news in the poll for Biden is that he pulls ahead of Trump when voters are asked about their ballot choice if the former president is convicted of a felony. Yet the margin then is just 2 points in Biden’s favor, also within the margin of error.

Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates, who conducted the survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff and his team at Public Opinion Strategies, says these findings reveal “a presidency in peril.”

“What is most concerning is the erosion of Biden’s standing against Trump compared to four years ago,” Horwitt said. “On every measure compared to 2020, Biden has declined. Most damning, the belief that Biden is more likely to be up to the job — the chief tenet of the Biden candidacy — has evaporated.”

McInturff, the GOP pollster, adds: “It is hard to imagine a more difficult set of numbers before a re-election.”

But Horwitt said that Biden still has time to change voters’ perceptions.

“Biden can take solace that we are in January and not October 2024. At this stage in prior cycles, attitudes can change,” he said.

The NBC News poll, conducted Jan. 26-30, comes after Trump won his party’s presidential nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, as the Israel-Hamas war enters its fourth month, and amid positive news on the U.S. economy, including growing consumer confidence and more than 300,000 jobs created last month.

(The poll, however, was conducted before the U.S. military launched strikes Friday in retaliation for the killings of three U.S. service members in Jordan.)

“Inflation is coming down. Jobs are growing. We created 800,000 manufacturing jobs,” Biden boasted in Michigan on Thursday.

Despite those statistics, Trump holds a 22-point advantage over Biden on the question of which candidate would do a better job handling the economy, with 55% picking Trump and 33% choosing Biden.

When this question was last asked in October 2020 — a month before Biden’s victory over Trump — the then-president held only a 7-point advantage over Biden, 48% to 41%.

That said, the poll shows improving attitudes about the economy, with the share of voters believing the economy will get worse in the next year declining 14 points since October 2022.

Also in the poll, Trump has the edge on securing the border and controlling immigration (35 points over Biden), on having the necessary mental and physical health to be president (+23), on dealing with crime and violence (+21), on being competent and effective (+16), and on improving America’s standing in the world (+11).

Biden holds advantages over Trump on dealing with abortion (+12) and protecting immigrant rights (+17).

The two men are essentially tied on the issue of protecting democracy, with 43% of voters preferring Biden and 41% picking Trump.

Biden’s approval rating falls to new low

The NBC News poll also finds Biden’s overall approval rating dropping to the lowest point of his presidency, with 37% of registered voters approving and 60% disapproving — down from November’s score of 40% approving, 57% disapproving.

Biden’s current approval rating is the lowest for any president in the NBC News poll since George W. Bush’s second term.

In the new poll, Biden’s approval rating has declined especially among Latinos (just 35% of them now approve of his job performance), voters ages 18-34 (29%) and independents (27%).

Additionally, 36% of voters in the poll approve of Biden’s handling of the economy (down 2 points from November), 34% approve of his handling of foreign policy (down 1 point) and 29% approve of his handling of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza (down 5 points).

Among voters under 35 years old, only 15% approve of Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war, while a whopping 70% disapprove.

“A major through line in what ails Biden most are his travails with younger voters,” said Horwitt, the Democratic pollster.

Measuring a Biden-Trump rematch

In a hypothetical head-to-head matchup in November’s presidential contest, Trump gets support from 47% of registered voters, versus 42% who back Biden.

That 5-point lead for Trump — within the poll’s margin of error — is up from November’s 2-point advantage for Trump, 46% to 44%.

It’s consistent with other recent polling, including CNN’s national survey and battleground-state polls from Bloomberg News and Morning Consult. But a recent national Quinnipiac University poll found Biden with a 6-point lead over Trump, 50% to 44%. Overall, national surveys point to a divided country in a testy mood — and a highly contested election on the horizon.

In the new NBC News poll, Biden holds the advantage over Trump among Black voters (75% to 16%), women (50% to 40%) and white people with college degrees (50% to 42%).

Trump, meanwhile, has leads among white people without college degrees (62% to 29%), men (56% to 34%) and independents (48% to 29%).

The two men are essentially tied among Latinos (Trump 42%, Biden 41%) and voters ages 18-34 (at 42% each). Among the youngest slice of voters measured, those ages 18-29, Biden has a narrow advantage (Biden 46%, Trump 38%).

But when the poll re-asks voters — on the survey’s final question — about their ballot choice if Trump is found guilty and convicted of a felony this year, the picture shifts. Biden jumps ahead of Trump among registered voters in that case, 45% to 43%. (Read more here.)

Testing Biden, Trump and third parties

In a hypothetical matchup featuring third parties, Trump’s advantage over Biden grows to 6 points, 41% to 35% — with an unnamed Libertarian Party candidate getting 5% support, an unnamed Green Party candidate getting another 5% and an unnamed No Labels candidate getting 4%.

(While the poll didn’t test a ballot including independent presidential candidates Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cornel West, who are still seeking state ballot access across the country, it finds 34% of all registered voters saying they could see themselves supporting Kennedy and 10% saying the same of West.)

And in a hypothetical matchup featuring Biden and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, the NBC News poll shows Haley leading Biden by 9 points, 45% to 36%.

Trump leads Haley by 60 points in GOP race

As for Haley and the GOP presidential race after Iowa and New Hampshire, the poll has Trump leading his former U.N. ambassador by a whopping 60 points among national GOP primary voters, 79% to 19%.

In a separate question, 61% of these Republican voters say Trump should continue as the party’s leader; 14% say Trump was a good president, but it’s time to consider other leaders; and 22% say the GOP needs a new leader with better personal behavior and a different approach.

The NBC News poll was conducted Jan. 26-30 of 1,000 registered voters — 867 contacted via cellphone — and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points. The margin of error for the 349 Republican primary voters is plus-minus 5.25 percentage points.