First Read: Clinton's Challenge Is Winning Over Sanders Voters

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders confer during the NBC News -YouTube Democratic Candidates Debate on Jan. 17 in Charleston, S.C.TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP - Getty Images

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Hillary’s challenge: winning over Sanders voters

Two forces are at play in our new NBC/WSJ poll showing Hillary Clinton’s lead over Donald Trump shrinking to just three points, 46%-43%.

One, Republicans have rallied around Trump since he became his party’s presumptive nominee. They’re now backing him over Clinton by an 86%-to-6% margin -- up from 72% to 13% a month ago.

Two, the still-ongoing Democratic primary race has taken a toll on Clinton, who is all but certain to be her party’s nominee. While Democrats are backing Clinton by an 83%-to-9% clip in the poll, just 66% of Democratic primary voters preferring Sanders support Clinton in a matchup against Trump (compared with 88% of Clinton primary voters who favor Sanders in a hypothetical general-election contest).

What’s more, Clinton’s fav/unfav rating among Democratic voters supporting Sanders is 38% positive, 41% negative (-3); Sanders’ rating among Clinton supporters is 54% positive, 23% negative (+31).

So this is Clinton’s challenge: Can she win over Sanders’ supporters in what has become an increasingly asymmetric Democratic contest -- with Clinton supporters liking Sanders, but with Sanders supporters disliking Clinton? It could be the difference between Democrats holding the advantage in November, or an incredibly close general-election contest.

History provides good news and bad news for Clinton here

History provides good news and bad news for Clinton being able to win over Sanders’ supporters if/when the Democratic race concludes. The good news: In our April 2008 NBC/WSJ poll -- conducted after John McCain had become the GOP’s presumptive nominee, but during the still-ongoing Obama-vs.-Clinton race -- Obama led McCain by just three points, 46%-43%, with only 60% of Clinton voters backing Obama in that matchup. So right now, there are (slightly) more Sanders voters saying they’d vote for Clinton than Clinton voters saying they’d vote for Obama at this same point in 2008. In addition, 82% of Sanders voters approve of President Obama’s job, which suggests they can come back into the fold. The bad news for Hillary: In ’08, Clinton voters held a mostly favorable view of Obama -- 45%-34% (+11), according to our April 2008 NBC/WSJ poll. Those ’08 numbers are significantly better than Clinton’s current 38%-41% (-3) rating among Sanders voters. And then throw in these questions: Does Sanders still take the nominating fight to Philadelphia, despite trailing in pledged delegates (by 274) and overall delegates (by 762)? And does declaring war on the Democratic National Committee, after Sanders said he’s backing the primary challenge against DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, make achieving unity harder? Here’s the current delegate math:

In pledged delegates, Clinton currently holds a lead of 274 delegates

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  • Clinton 1,771 (54%)
  • Sanders 1,497 (46%)

Clinton must win 32% of remaining pledged delegates to get a majority in pledged delegates

Sanders must win 68% of remaining pledged delegates to get a majority in pledged delegates

In overall delegates (pledged + super), Clinton holds an overall lead of 762 delegates

Clinton must win 9% of remaining delegates to reach 2,383 magic number

Sanders must win 91% of remaining delegates to reach 2,383 magic number

Mr. and Mrs. Unpopular: Clinton and Trump are the most unpopular likely presidential nominees in the history of our poll

The other headline from our new NBC/WSJ poll: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the most unpopular likely presidential nominees in the history of our poll, which dates back to the early 1990s. Just 34% of registered voters have a positive opinion of Clinton, versus 54% who have a negative opinion (-20) -- a slight uptick from her minus-24 score last month. Trump's rating is even worse: 29% have a positive opinion of him, while 58% have a negative opinion (-29) -- an improvement from his minus-41 score in April. “This has never been matched, or even close to being matched,” Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted the survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff, says of these negative ratings for Trump and Clinton. By comparison, here are the fav/unfav scores for all of the political figures and institutions our NBC/WSJ poll measured:

  • Obama: 49% positive, 41% negative (+8)
  • Sanders: 43% positive, 36% negative (+7)
  • Paul Ryan: 29% positive, 29% negative (even)
  • Democratic Party: 38% positive, 41% negative (-3)
  • Clinton: 34% positive, 54% negative (-20)
  • Republican Party: 24% positive, 49% negative (-25)
  • Trump: 29% positive, 58% negative (-29)
  • Vladimir Putin: 8% positive, 59% negative (-51)

There will be more NBC/WSJ poll numbers

We will be releasing more NBC/WSJ poll numbers at noon ET and 5:00 pm ET today. So be on the lookout.

Clinton: “If you’ve got someone running for president who’s afraid to release his tax returns … I think that’s a big problem”

Meanwhile, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Clinton went hard after Trump for not releasing his tax returns. “I think he needs to release his tax returns,” she said. “The only two we have show that he hasn't paid a penny in taxes. And yet he goes around talking about ‘Make America Great.’ You know? That means paying for our military. That means paying for our roads. That means paying for the V.A. That means a lot of things. And if you've got someone running for president who's afraid to release his tax returns, because it will expose the fact that he pays no federal income tax, I think that's a big problem.”

Check out that Bern rate

By the way, here are the official fundraising numbers for April:


  • Raised: $26.4 million
  • Spent: $26.3 million
  • Burn rate: 99%
  • Cash on hand: $30.2 million


  • Raised $26.9 million
  • Spent: $38.6 million
  • Burn rate: 143%
  • Cash on hand: $5.8 million


  • Raised: $9.7 million
  • Spent: $9.4 million
  • Burn rate: 97%
  • Cash on Hand: $2.4 million

On the trail

Hillary Clinton addresses the SEIU convention in Detroit, MI and then raises money in California… Bernie Sanders campaigns in California, stumping in Los Angeles and Santa Monica… And Bill Clinton also hits the Golden State, visiting Fresno, Stockton, and Sacramento.