WASHINGTON — Less than three weeks before Election Day, Joe Biden maintains a double-digit national lead over President Donald Trump, with 6 in 10 voters saying that the country is on the wrong track and that it is worse off than it was four years ago.
What's more, a majority of voters say they have major concerns that Trump will divide the country rather than unite it — the largest concern for either presidential candidate.
Those are the results of a new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll — conducted after Trump returned to the White House from his hospitalization for the coronavirus — which finds Biden ahead of Trump by 11 points among registered voters, 53 percent to 42 percent.
That's down from Biden's 14-point lead in the NBC News/WSJ poll conducted immediately after the first presidential debate on Sept. 29, although the movement is within the poll's margin of error.
"The president may have recovered from Covid-19, but there is no experimental cocktail that can cure his standing with voters," said Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates, who conducted the survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff and his colleagues at Public Opinion Strategies.
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But the poll also shows how the race could tighten in the final days, especially as Trump returns to the campaign trail.
The economy remains voters' top issue, and Republican enjoy a double-digit advantage on it.
While more think the nation is worse off than it was four years ago, half of voters — 50 percent — say they're personally better off than they were before Trump took office.
And the president's job approval rating (44 percent) remains higher than his ballot number (42 percent), which suggests some room for growth.
There's also the memory of what happened in 2016: The October NBC News/WSJ poll from four years ago — after the release of the damaging "Access Hollywood" video of Trump but before FBI Director James Comey intervened in the race's final days — showed Hillary Clinton with an identical 11-point lead over Trump.
(The final NBC News/WSJ poll of 2016 had Clinton's national lead down to 5 points; she won the popular vote by more than 2 percentage points.)
But what's different from four years ago is just how stable Biden's national lead has been over the past year, including among key voting subgroups like women, voters of color, seniors and independents.
"These are the trends we've been watching for 10 months," said McInturff, the Republican pollster.
In the current poll, Biden's biggest advantages are among Black voters (he gets 91 percent to Trump's 4 percent), Latinos (62 percent to 26 percent), women (60 percent to 34 percent), voters ages 18 to 34 (57 percent to 34 percent), whites with college degrees (57 percent to 38 percent), seniors (54 percent to 44 percent) and independents (46 percent to 39 percent).
Trump holds the edge among men (50 percent to 45 percent), whites (50 percent to 46 percent) and whites without college degrees (59 percent to 38 percent).
All of those numbers are consistent with NBC News/WSJ polling since the beginning of the year.
The fundamentals are breaking against Trump
Another difference from four years ago is that Trump is now the incumbent — instead of the challenger — in a volatile political environment.
Sixty-two percent of voters in the poll say the country is on the wrong track, compared to 29 percent who say it's headed in the right direction.
That's an improvement since July, when only 19 percent of voters said the country was headed in the right direction, but it's lower than the more than 30 percent who were saying that before the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States.
What's more, 58 percent of voters believe the country is worse off than it was four years ago, compared to 38 percent who say it's better off.
The president's job rating in the poll stands at 44 percent approval and 54 percent disapproval among registered voters (it was 43 percent approval, 55 percent disapproval earlier this month).
And just 41 percent approve of his handling of the coronavirus (it was 40 percent in the last NBC News/WSJ poll).
"In the end, elections always come back to the fundamentals," said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who also helped conduct the poll.
How the race could tighten in the final weeks
While more say the country is worse off than it was four years ago, voters' attitudes about their personal situations are different.
Fifty percent say they and their families are better off than they were four years ago, compared to 34 percent who say they're worse off.
In addition, the economy ranks as the top issue — followed by the coronavirus and then health care.
Republicans enjoy a 13-point advantage over Democrats in which party better handles the economy. (Democrats lead by 17 points on the coronavirus and by 18 points on health care.)
"There are signs that the race could still tighten," said Horwitt, the Democratic pollster.
Voters more concerned about Trump than Biden
But the poll — which asked a series of negative statements about both candidates — also shows that voters' biggest overall concerns are about Trump, not Biden.
Fifty-three percent say they have major concerns that Trump will divide the country, not unite it.
Forty-nine percent of voters say they have major concerns that Trump has the wrong presidential temperament.
That's followed by 46 percent who have major concerns that Trump will hurt the health of Americans by not going far enough to combat the coronavirus, while 41 percent have major concerns that Biden would allow the Democratic Party to pursue liberal policies.
And 39 percent have major concerns that Biden hasn't accomplished much in his 47 years in Washington, while 34 percent have major concerns that he will hurt the economy by going too far in his response to the coronavirus.
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll was conducted Oct. 9-12 of 1,000 registered voters — more than half of whom were contacted by cellphone — and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.