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Trump still has a 50 percent problem in the NBC News/WSJ poll

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: President Donald Trump arrives for a news conference at the White House
President Donald Trump arrives for a news conference at the White House, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020.Patrick Semansky / AP

WASHINGTON — The good news for President Trump in our latest national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll is that his numbers have improved across the board by about 2 points since July, though that movement is well within the poll’s margin of error.

(That slight improvement is reflected in many of the other national polls we’ve seen over the past few days.)

The bad news for Trump is that he still has a 50 percent problem in the poll — where half (if not more) of the national electorate is firmly against him.

And that’s a tough place for any incumbent to be. Consider these numbers:

  • 50 percent of registered voters support Joe Biden on the ballot (versus 41 percent for Trump);
  • 52 percent have a negative view of the president, including 44 percent of all voters who have a “very negative” view;
  • 53 percent disapprove of Trump’s overall job, including 47 percent who do so strongly;
  • and 58 percent disapprove of his handling of the coronavirus.

Our pollsters stress that the election — now 78 days away — isn’t a done deal.

And Biden has his own challenges in the poll, which we’ll address ahead of his Democratic convention speech on Thursday.

But Trump’s 50 percent problem is maybe the biggest force shaping this election – at least so far.

More from the poll: 61 percent say the U.S. response to the coronavirus has been unsuccessful

The other major force shaping this election is the coronavirus.

And don’t be surprised when that issue becomes a key talking point during the Democratic convention, especially for tonight’s speeches from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. (More on tonight’s speaking lineup is below.)

According to the NBC News/WSJ poll, 61 percent of all voters think America’s response to the coronavirus has been unsuccessful. That includes 84 percent of Dem respondents, 58 percent of independents, but just 37 percent of Republicans.

Also from our poll: 53 percent of voters say Trump didn’t take the coronavirus threat seriously at the beginning — and still isn’t handling it well.

That’s another 50 percent problem for the president.

The Postal Service story affects almost everyone

On Friday, we said the state of the U.S. Postal Service is the most important story right now in American politics.

And that storyline continues today, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling the House back to session to address the issue. Democrats have further requested that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testify in front of the House Oversight Committee on Aug. 24.

What makes the controversy so politically potent is that this is something that affects EVERYONE.

“This is something — in a way like the virus — that everyone is experiencing in their own specific way,” NBC’s Kasie Hunt said on “Meet the Press” yesterday.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

5,420,179: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 145,706 more than Friday morning.)

170,883: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 2,554 more than Friday morning.)

66.97 million: The number of coronavirus TESTS administered in the U.S., according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

58 percent: The share who disapprove of President Trump’s response to the coronavirus crisis.

Four weeks: The delay in New Zealand’s national election due to a new coronavirus outbreak.

2020 Vision: It’s Day One of the Dem convention

The Democrats today kick off a convention season that will be unlike any other — due to the coronavirus — where the programming will consist of speeches and performances from different remote locations.

Here’s the Monday night lineup of speeches, which will take place from 9:00 pm ET to 11:00 pm ET:

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
  • Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev.
  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo
  • Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
  • House Majority Whip James Clyburn
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
  • Former First Lady Michelle Obama

FYI: Convention planners say most of the speeches and segments will be shorter than in years past – think between two and five minutes.

As for the Republican counterprogramming, President Trump will be traveling to Minnesota and Wisconsin to deliver economic speeches in the afternoon.

Ad watch from Ben Kamisar

While Democrats were supposed to flood Milwaukee this week for their convention, it’s the Republicans who have in-person events in Wisconsin this week.

But as both campaigns embark on dramatically different strategies regarding in-person events, the DNC and Biden campaign are out with a brutal new ad that argues Trump’s in-person events are putting Americans “at risk.”

The spot echoes words of a Tulsa public health official saying people could “connect the dots” between Trump’s June rally there and the subsequent spike in COVID-19 cases in the city (the Trump campaign defended the decision at the time by noting guests were provided a mask and temperature-checked). Then it warns that “now, Trump is coming to Wisconsin for a political stunt that puts you at risk.”

The ad just started running this morning, first in Washington D.C. according to the ad trackers ad Advertising Analytics. So it’s not clear yet how widely it will run. But that one political party can run an attack ad based off of the other’s decision to hold in-person events is yet another sign of how COVID-19 has flipped political campaigning on its head.

The Lid: Unconventional wisdom

Don’t miss the pod from Friday, when we remembered what happened at the GOP convention four years ago, raising the question of whether political conventions matter.

Shameless plug: Rock the vote

When is the deadline to register in your state? Can you vote by mail without an excuse? When is the first day you can cast your ballot? Our state-by-state guide has everything you need to know about voting in the 2020 presidential election.

Use the interactive tool to see where your state stands on voting rules, plus read up on deadlines, how to track your ballot after you vote and more.

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world

Biden may be leading in the polls, but Democrats are apprehensive heading into the convention.

States are scrambling to assure voters that their ballots are still safe.

Without in-person conventions, lobbyists have been sidelined.

The Trump administration got a win in the Middle East last week. But a UN move on Iran was a humiliation for the U.S. just a day later.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling the House back to address the Postal Service crisis.

Here’s the latest in the political standoff in Belarus.

Trump wants to meet with Vladimir Putin before the election, NBC News reports

A private security company is holding migrant children at hotels, the New York Times reports.