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Here's why Biden's 2020 lead is different than Clinton's in 2016

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 smiles during a Voter Mobilization Event campaign stop at the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Oct. 12, 2020.Tom Brenner / Reuters file

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden leads President Trump by 11 points in the latest national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

So did Hillary Clinton at this exact same time four years ago (after “Access Hollywood” but before the Oct. 28 Comey letter).

But here’s what’s different from 2016:

  • Biden has a net-positive fav/unfav rating in our latest poll (43 percent/42 percent), while Clinton didn’t in the Oct. 2016 NBC News/WSJ poll (40 percent/50 percent).
  • Biden has been at 50 percent or higher on the ballot in five-straight NBC News/WSJ polls, while Clinton only got to 50 percent or higher twice in two-way matchups during the general election (and both times were right after “Access Hollywood”).
  • Biden’s lead since January has consistently been between 6 and 11 points (with the exception being his 14-point lead right after the first debate), while Clinton’s lead over Trump ranged between 3 and 11 points.
  • Biden has consistently led among seniors, while Clinton never did, as the Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman points out.
  • And while there was a sizable third-party vote in 2016 (Gary Johnson was at 7 percent in our Oct. 2016 NBC News/WSJ poll, Jill Stein was at 2 percent), our present poll isn’t even measuring the third-party vote in 2020 — because it’s guaranteed to be smaller in 2020.

Add them all up — Biden’s positive fav/unfav rating, his consistently larger and more durable lead, his advantage with seniors, and the lack of a real third-party vote — and you see that not all 11-point leads are created equally. (And this analysis doesn’t include all of the post-2016 changes we made to our poll.)

After what happened four years ago, it’s become easy for many to dismiss the polls (even though the final national polls were more right than wrong; Clinton won the popular vote, after all).

But our October 2020 poll is vastly different than the one from 2016, even if the ballot margin is the same.

Two very different town halls

Speaking of differences, last night’s dueling Trump and Biden town halls couldn’t have provided a clearer contrast.

“On NBC, Trump was pushed to address questions he's avoided, pressed about his health and finances, in sometimes testy fashion. On ABC, Biden delivered lengthy detailed responses in a policy-heavy discussion, continuing to dodge questions about ‘packing’ the Supreme Court and regretting his support of the 1994 crime bill,” per NBC News.

The New York Times adds: “President Trump spoke positively about an extremist conspiracy-theory group, expressed skepticism about mask-wearing, rebuked his own F.B.I. director and attacked the legitimacy of the 2020 election … as his Democratic opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., pushed a deliberate message anchored in concerns over public health and promises to restore political norms.”

And be sure to read the other town hall takeaways from NBC’s Sahil Kapur and Alex Seitz-Wald.

What you see is what you get

At the end of last night’s NBC town hall, Savannah Guthrie asked Trump this question: How might you improve in a second term?

The president’s answer: “Because I've done a great job. We had the strongest economy in the world, we'd closed it up, we are coming around the corner, the vaccines are coming out soon, and our economy is strong … and next year is going to be better than ever before.”

Translation: He’s made no mistakes, committed no errors and has nothing on which to improve.

Modern American presidents have admitted mistakes and made course corrections — think Bill Clinton after 1994, Barack Obama after 2010.

But Trump never has.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

8,029,163: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 71,269 more than yesterday morning.)

218,921: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 905 more than yesterday morning.)

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

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: Q Anew

President Trump often makes news on what he will not do, and last night’s NBC town hall was no different. During the first presidential debate, President Trump would not clearly denounce white supremacy — a few days later he denounced the group that he had told to “stand back and stand by” during the debate.

Last night, Trump refused to disavow QAnon — a conspiracy group that some Republicans like Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse call nuts. Last night, the president said he doesn’t “know anything about it” but that “they are very much against pedophilia.” He said he didn’t know if one of their core beliefs, that there is a satanic group being run by Democrats is true.

Here’s what NBC’s Ben Collins, who reports on QAnon tweeted about the president’s answer: “Outside of a straight up endorsement, this is about as about as close to a dream scenario for QAnon followers as is humanly possible.”

On the campaign trail today

President Trump holds rallies in Ocala, Fla., and Macon, Ga. Joe Biden stumps in Michigan. Mike Pence is in North Carolina.

Ad Watch from Ben Kamisar

Today’s Ad Watch takes a look under the hood of Preserve America PAC, one of the largest outside spenders in the presidential race and a group that has had the luxury of keeping its donors quiet until Thursday.

It turns out the super PAC, which spent $76 million in September on independent expenditures attacking former Vice President Joe Biden, was funded primarily by GOP megadonors/billionaires/casino magnates Sheldon and Miriam Adelson. The couple donated $75 million to the PAC, new campaign finance reports show. A few other GOP megadonors cut big checks, too, although at a much smaller magnitude — Diane Hendricks donated $1 million, Bernie Marcus donated $5 million and Warren Stephens donated $2 million.

Since Preserve America PAC launched so late in the game, Thursday’s filing deadline gave us the first glimpse at the money behind the new group. The massive infusion of cash has allowed Preserve America to become one of the biggest outside spenders in the entire presidential race, despite being active for less than two months.

Check out Politico for more on Adelson’s recent spending this cycle.

The Lid: Q and A

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at what polling says about QAnon’s believers.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Here are five top takeaways from last night’s town halls.

And here’s our team’s fact check of last night’s claims.

Biden now says his position on expanding the Supreme Court depends on how Republicans handle the current nomination — so he may take a position before the election.

Those Hunter Biden emails? Federal investigators are probing whether they may be part of a foreign intelligence operation.

And the White House has been warned by intelligence officials that Russians may be using Rudy Giuliani to feed misinformation to Trump.

Here’s what Ben Sasse had to say about Trump on a call with constituents.

The Trump administration is rejecting California’s request for wildfire aid.

Gretchen Whitmer isn’t letting up the heat on Trump for his “appalling” response to a kidnapping plot against her.

C-SPAN has suspended host Steve Scully after he admitted to lying about his Twitter account being hacked.