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Amid the Trump chaos, public opinion is remarkably stable

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

by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann /
Image: Flanked by Senator John Thune (R-SD) and Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with governors and members of Congress at the White House in Washington, on April 12, 2018.
Flanked by Senator John Thune (R-SD) and Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with governors and members of Congress at the White House in Washington, on April 12, 2018.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

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WASHINGTON — The latest NBC/WSJ poll — which finds President Trump’s job rating at 39 percent and Democrats leading in congressional preference by seven points — is a reminder of just how stable the polling has been in the Trump Era, even when the news environment hasn’t been stable at all.

After becoming president, Trump’s high in approval rating in the NBC/WSJ poll has been 44 percent (February 2017), and his low has been 38 percent (October 2017) – a range of just six points in the 11 polls conducted during his presidency.

In the past year, congressional preference for the upcoming midterms has fluctuated from a high of D+11 (December 2017) and a low of D+6 (September 2017, January 2018) – a range of five points in the seven NBC/WSJ polls conducted since last April.

And even on the Russia probe, 37 percent of Americans in the new NBC/WSJ poll say that the indictments and guilty pleas suggest potential wrongdoing by Trump, versus 25 percent who say they suggest wrongdoing by only those individuals. Those numbers are virtually unchanged from last December, when 36 percent pointed the finger at Trump, versus 25 percent at those individuals.

So the more that changes during the Trump presidency – think of all the news last Friday (Trump vs. Comey, the strikes on Syria, the McClatchy report alleging Mueller has evidence Trump lawyer Michael Cohen did indeed travel to Prague, which Cohen continues to deny) — the more public opinion stays the same.

And maybe all of this shouldn’t be a surprise when Trump’s rhetoric and policies tend to be aimed at his base instead of the middle of the electorate.

An important caveat, however: Heading into Election Day 2016, many of us also thought the Clinton-vs.-Trump race was incredibly stable, but the final result produced a shocking result (hello, James Comey!). So even when the polling doesn’t necessarily change, don’t forget that there can still be surprising electoral outcomes in our divided country.

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Democrats have the midterm intensity advantage

What also has been stable in the NBC/WSJ poll is the Democratic intensity ahead of the November midterms. Sixty-six percent of Democrats express a high level of interest in voting (either a “9” or “10” on a 10-point scale), versus 49 percent for Republicans. (That’s a reversal from the merged NBC/WSJ polling data in 2010, when 66 percent of Republicans expressed a high level of interest, compared with 49 percent for Democrats.)

And when it comes to Trump’s approval, 44 percent of Americans say they “strongly disapprove” of the president’s job, versus 22 percent who “strongly approve,” which is essentially unchanged from March.

“That enthusiasm is a very powerful signal of a Democratic edge,” said NBC/WSJ co-pollster Bill McInturff (R), but he cautioned that high-interest voters “are a fraction of all overall voters.” (After all, not every voter is a “9” or “10.”)

McInturff added, “You don’t see knockout numbers here in April. You see problematic numbers [for Republicans].”

Looking inside Trump’s job rating

Here’s Trump’s job approval rating among key groups

Highlights from the Comey interview

Here are some highlights from former FBI Director James Comey’s interview on ABC:

Trump’s “not fit to be president” on “moral grounds”: “A person who sees moral equivalence in Charlottesville, who talks about and treats women like they're pieces of meat, who lies constantly about matters big and small and insists the American people believe it, that person's not fit to be president of the United States, on moral grounds.”

On if Trump fires Mueller: “I hope, set off alarm bells that this is his most serious attack yet on the rule of law. And it would be something that our entire country — again, Democrats and Republicans, that is higher than all the normal fights about policy. That is about the values of this country and the rule of law.”

Should Trump be impeached? “I hope not because I think impeaching and removing Donald Trump from office would let the American people off the hook and have something happen indirectly that I believe they're duty bound to do directly. People in this country need to stand up and go to the voting booth and vote their values.

Did Trump obstruct justice when he allegedly told Comey to let go of Michael Flynn matter? Possibly. I mean, it's certainly some evidence of obstruction of justice. It would depend and — and I'm just a witness in this case, not the investigator or prosecutor, it would depend upon other things that reflected on his intent.”

Did he assume Clinton was going to win when he released his letter on Oct. 28, 2016? “I don't remember consciously thinking about that, but it must have been. 'Cause I was operating in a world where Hillary Clinton was going to beat Donald Trump. And so I'm sure that it-- that it was a factor. Like I said, I don't remember spelling it out, but it had to have been. That-- that she's going to be elected president, and if I hide this from the American people, she'll be illegitimate the moment she's elected, the moment this comes out.”

GOP establishment vs. Don Blankenship in West Virginia

“The Republican establishment has launched an emergency intervention in the West Virginia Senate primary aimed at stopping recently imprisoned coal baron Don Blankenship from winning the party’s nomination,” Politico writes. “Late last week, a newly formed super PAC generically dubbed the ‘Mountain Families PAC’ began airing TV ads targeting Blankenship, who spent one year behind bars following a deadly 2010 explosion at his Upper Big Branch Mine. The national party isn’t promoting its role in the group, but its fingerprints are all over it.”

Here’s one of those ads.

Gwen Graham releases web ad focused on gun control

NBC’s Ali Vitali: “A new web ad from Democratic Florida gubernatorial hopeful Gwen Graham is keeping the focus on gun control in the aftermath of February's tragic Parkland shooting. In the video, provided first to NBC News, Graham calls the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School ‘every parent's worst nightmare,’ visibly emotional as the mother of three talks about the tragedy that left 17 people dead. ‘My heart breaks as a mom. That’s how this issue resonates with me, not as someone running for office, but as a mom that never wants any parent to face what those parents faced.’”

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Bush family

Finally, there’s this news via NBC: “Former First Lady Barbara Bush will not seek additional medical treatment after a series of recent hospitalizations, a family spokesman said Sunday. In a statement, the spokesman said Bush, 92, would instead focus on "comfort care" after consulting with doctors and family members. It wasn't immediately clear what Bush, the wife of former President George H.W. Bush and mother of former President George W. Bush, had been hospitalized for.”

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