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Biden leads Trump, but it's much closer in battleground states

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.
Image: Joe Biden
Joe Biden speaks at a drive-in rally at Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park on Nov. 1, 2020, in Philadelphia.Andrew Harnik / AP

WASHINGTON — There are three major findings in our final national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll for the 2020 election.

One, Trump versus Biden has been a remarkably stable race. (Our July 2019 poll had the contest Biden 51 percent, Trump 42 percent among registered voters; the poll yesterday showed it Biden 52 percent, Trump 42 percent.)

Two, the overall fundamentals are difficult if you’re an incumbent president. (Trump’s job rating is in the mid-40s and his approval for handling the coronavirus is lower than that.)

And three, the race is tighter in the key battlegrounds.

In the 12-most competitive battlegrounds — Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — Biden is ahead of Trump by a combined 5 points, 51 percent to 46 percent, according to a survey of 800 additional registered voters in those states interviewed Sunday by NBC/WSJ pollsters.

Biden’s lead in these states was 6 points in our Oct. 29-31 NBC News/WSJ poll, 51 percent to 45 percent, although that movement is within the margin of error.

Important context, however: Trump won these same states by a combined 2 points in 2016, 49 percent to 47 percent.

And here are the fundamentals in these 12 states:

Fifty-seven percent say the country is on the wrong track (compared with 60 percent overall).

The president’s job-approval rating is at 47 percent (compared with 45 percent overall).

Trump has a net-negative favorable/unfavorable rating at 44 percent/52 percent (compared with 43 percent/52 percent overall).

And when it comes to the coronavirus, 42 percent of voters approve of his handling of the issue, (compared with 40 percent overall).

So it’s closer in the battlegrounds, and that’s how Trump still can pull off a victory. (It also explains how it could take a while to count all of the votes to determine a winner.)

But he’s still behind in these states he won four years ago.

Trump’s closing argument: Fire Fauci?

Speaking of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, the president seemed to suggest Sunday night that he’d fire Dr. Anthony Fauci if he wins re-election.

When “Fire Fauci!” chants erupted at Trump’s final rally in Florida last night, the president said, “Don't tell anybody but let me wait till a little bit after the election.”

Fauci just happens to be the most popular figure in our new NBC News/WSJ poll, with a 50 percent positive, 13 percent negative favorable/unfavorable rating (compared with Trump’s rating of 43 percent positive, 52 percent negative).

Yet look at Fauci’s numbers by party:

  • Among Democrats: 73 percent positive, 4 percent negative (+69)
  • Among independents: 51 percent positive, 12 percent negative (+39)
  • Among Republicans: 27 percent positive, 23 percent negative (+4)
  • Among Republicans who support Trump more than party: 14 percent positive, 30 percent negative (-16)
  • Among Republicans who support the party more than Trump: 44 percent positive, 13 percent negative (+31)

That “Fire Fauci” argument plays only to the Trump base — and not anyone else.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

9,288,506: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 257,013 more than Friday morning.)

232,158:The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 2,224 more than Friday morning.)

147.22 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

47,502: The number of people currently hospitalized for Covid-19 in the U.S., per the Covid Tracking Project.

93,354,695: The number of people who have voted early, either by mail or in person, according to NBC and TargetSmart.

52 percent to 42 percent: Biden’s lead in the final NBC/WSJ national poll, released yesterday.

68 percent: The share of voters in the poll who say they have already voted or plan to vote early. Biden leads with these voters, 61 percent to 35 percent.

28 percent: The share who say they plan to vote on Election Day. Trump leads with these voters, 61 percent to 32 percent.

62 percent to 29 percent: Biden’s national margin with Latinos, according to an NBC/WSJ/Telemundo survey also released yesterday.

50 percent to 45 percent: Biden’s advantage in Pennsylvania with registered voters, according to a final Monmouth poll of the state this morning

Seven: The number of counties in Pennsylvania that will wait until after Election Day to process mail-in ballots.

2020 Vision: The final countdown

On the campaign trail today: In the final day of campaigning, President Trump holds rallies in Fayetteville, N.C.; Scranton, Penn.; Traverse City, Mich.; Kenosha, Wis.; and Grand Rapids, Mich. Joe Biden has events in Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Barack Obama is in Atlanta and Miami. Mike Pence hits Latrobe, Penn., and Erie, Penn. And Kamala Harris is also in Pennsylvania.

What’s old is new again

For President Trump, what’s old was new again during his final weekend rallies.

In North Carolina, Trump told voters to get Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to open up the state: “Tell your governor to open up North Carolina. It's time. It's time. It's time. It's ridiculous. It's ridiculous. They'll probably announce it on November 4th, we're going to open up now.” North Carolina, like most states, is seeing a spike in Covid-19 cases and Trump’s statement comes on the heels of Dr. Anthony Fauci lamenting the state of the pandemic.

In Iowa, the president attacked the media and accused big tech companies of censoring him: “The media doesn't want to talk about it, they put silence on it. They put silence on it, and big tech, they'll have to do something with Section 230,” Trump said. He added, “What's going on could kill this country.”

And in Michigan, Trump targeted resettling refugees: “One of the biggest issues for Michigan in this election is the subject of refugees. With this weather, you don't have to worry about it. They'll never come. They're never coming. You send them here, they're saying, I'm going back. This is terrible.” Trump used similar lines back in 2016 — here’s what he said about Syrian refugees then: “This could be one of the great tactical ploys of all time. A 200,000-man army maybe, or if you said 50,000 or 80,000 or 100,000, we got problems and that could be possible. I don't know that it is, but it could be possible so they’re going back — they’re going back.”

Ad Watch from Ben Kamisar

Today’s Ad Watch is not about the top presidential ad spender in Florida, or the second or the third, but the 11th — Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott.

Scott, who won in 2018 and is out of cycle, actually spent more on the TV/radio airwaves this weekend in Florida than President Trump did — $75,000 to $54,000, per Advertising Analytics.

Trump did get a boost from the RNC, which paid for $424,000 in Florida TV/radio time this weekend. But it’s striking to see the candidate getting outspent by Scott, another rich Floridian with his eyes on his own political future.

The Lid: Sense of the Senate

Don’t miss the pod from Friday, when we broke down the Democrat vs. GOP battle for the Senate.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Ever wonder how networks project the winners of elections? Our Decision Desk walks you through the process.

Trump is lashing out at the FBI after it announced it will investigate reports of a caravan of Trump supporters harassing a Biden campaign bus.

And the president suggested he might fire Anthony Fauci after the election.

Voters of color in some key swing states are having their mail ballots rejected at disproportionately higher rates.

Police deployed pepper spray and made arrests during a peaceful march to the polls in Alamance County, North Carolina.

Democrats have a lot of 2016 PTSD.

Trump says his team will send lawyers to swing states “night of.”

The Biden campaign released a list of its biggest fundraisers.

Edward Snowden is applying for Russian citizenship.