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Trump Has a Big Problem with the Middle of the Electorate

Trump is losing ground with the middle of the country.
Demonstrators Protest As Donald Trump Starts New Political Era And Republicans Claim Mandate
A demonstrator holds a sign reading "Not My President" outside Trump Tower during a rally against U.S. President-elect Donald Trump in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.Daniel Acker / Bloomberg via Getty Images

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.

WASHINGTON — Given all of the focus on President Trump’s political base — and how he’s still holding on to it – our new NBC/WSJ poll sheds light on a less-discussed development: Trump is losing ground with the middle of the country.

Just 34 percent of independents approve of Trump’s job performance, while 57 percent disapprove (-23). That’s a decline from September, when 41 percent of independents approved and 48 percent disapproved (-7). As for self-described moderates, only 27 percent approve of Trump’s job, versus 68 percent who disapprove (-41). The president’s overall job-approval rating stands at 38 percent — his lowest yet in the NBC/WSJ poll.

What’s more, independents prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress over a Republican-controlled one in next year’s midterm elections by 6 points, 39 percent to 33 percent, while moderates want a Dem-controlled Congress by 32 points, 60 percent to 28 percent.

And by a 31 percent-to-21 margin, independents say their midterm vote will be to send a message for more Democrats to serve as a check and balance against Trump and congressional Republicans, versus sending a message for more Republicans to help Trump and the GOP pass their agenda.

The good news for Trump in the NBC/WSJ poll is that Republicans (who approve of him by 81 percent to 17 percent) and self-described conservatives (75 percent approve, 22 percent disapprove) are still in his corner.

But there’s a significant downside of ONLY playing to your base: You find yourself on the wrong side of almost everyone else, including the middle of the electorate – and at a time when the economic news is mostly positive.

Is Trump’s base beginning to fray?

So Trump’s standing with independents and the middle of the electorate is Problem #1 for him in the NBC/WSJ poll. Problem #2 is the sign that his base is beginning to fray, even if it’s ever so slightly.

The drop in Trump’s overall approval rating — from 43 percent in September to 38 percent now — comes from independents, whites (who shifted from 51 percent approval a month ago to 47 percent now) and whites without a college degree (from 58 percent to 51 percent).

“Are we starting to see the fraying of the Trump base … after this week of [Republican] infighting?” asked NBC/WSJ co-pollster Fred Yang (D).

NBC/WSJ poll numbers are a “flashing yellow light for Republicans”

Looking ahead to the 2018 midterm elections, which take place a year from now, 48 percent of registered voters in the poll say they prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress, while 41 percent want a Republican-controlled Congress. That 7-point advantage for Democrats is up one point from September’s NBC/WSJ poll, but it’s smaller than the double digit margins they enjoyed in the 2006 and 2008 cycles, when they picked up a sizable number of congressional seats.

Still, a near-majority of voters, 46 percent, say their vote in November 2018 will be to send a message for more Democrats to serve as a check and balance to Trump and congressional Republicans. That’s compared with 28 percent who say their vote will be a message for more Republicans to help Trump and congressional Republicans pass their agenda. Another 22 percent said their vote would be a different message than either of those two choices.

And the Republican advantage in GOP-held congressional districts has decreased from +14 in September (52 percent preferring a GOP-controlled Congress versus 38 percent preferring a Democratic-controlled Congress) to +6 in October (47 percent GOP, 41 percent Dem).

“This is a flashing yellow light for Republicans,” said McInturff, the GOP pollster.

Nearly half of working women say they’ve experienced harassment

Also from our NBC/WSJ poll: “As women around the country continue to come forward with accusations of sexual harassment by famous men in media and beyond, about half of American working women say: #MeToo,” one of us writes. “A new poll conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal shows that 48 percent of currently employed women in the United States say that they have personally experienced an unwelcome sexual advance or verbal or physical harassment at work.”

More: “Two-thirds of Americans, 67 percent, believe that sexual harassment happens in most or almost all workplaces. Overall, 62 percent of men and 71 percent of women say that workplace sexual harassment is widespread, although men and women over 50 years old see the issue as somewhat less common than their younger counterparts.”

And: “While majorities within all partisan groups say that harassment is fairly prevalent, Democrats and independents appear to view it as somewhat more common than Republicans do. About three-quarters of Democrats and independents — but just 55 percent of Republicans — say harassment or mistreatment of a sexual nature occurs in most or all workplaces.”

The rest of the NBC/WSJ poll will come out later today.

Manafort, Gates Are Targets of Mueller Indictmnet

Breaking this morning: "Former Donald Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his longtime business associate Rick Gates have been told to surrender to law enforcement on Monday, a senior U.S. official told NBC News. They are the first people to turn be ordered to surrender in the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia and Moscow's interference in the election last year."

And the New York Times reports : “The charges against Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, and Mr. Gates, a business associate of Mr. Manafort, were not immediately clear but represent a significant escalation in a special counsel investigation that has cast a shadow over the president’s first year in office. Mr. Gates is a longtime protégé and junior partner of Mr. Manafort. His name appears on documents linked to companies that Mr. Manafort’s firm set up in Cyprus to receive payments from politicians and businesspeople in Eastern Europe, records reviewed by The New York Times show.”

Rubio to campaign for Gillespie in VA GOV race

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., campaigns for Republican Ed Gillespie today in Virginia’s gubernatorial contest, while Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder stumped for Democrat Ralph Northam on Sunday.