Mr. Biden is ahead by 11 points in the national survey, 53% to 42%, following a tumultuous few weeks that included Mr. Trump’s nomination of federal Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court; the candidates’ contentious, televised debate and the president’s Covid-19 diagnosis and hospitalization.
The survey finds Mr. Trump rebounding from a 14-point deficit earlier this month in a poll taken immediately after the debate with Mr. Biden, but still in a weaker position than in September, when he trailed the former vice president by 8 points.
The poll holds warning signs for Republicans down-ballot, as well. Democrats came out ahead of Republicans by 8 points when voters were asked which party they planned to support for Congress.
Voters appear to be motivated more by concerns about the direction of the country than their own economic gains.
Some 50% say they are better off than they were four years ago, compared with 34% who say they are worse off. However, 58% say the country is worse off than four years ago, compared with 38% who say it is better off. Moreover, more than 60% of voters say the country is headed in the wrong direction.
The No. 1 election issue among those surveyed was the economy, and voters gave Republicans a 13-point advantage over Democrats as the better economic manager. Yet, the pollsters said voters this election cycle don’t seem to be voting based on that issue alone.
“The economy is the No. 1 issue. People are saying, ‘Yep, I think Trump is better on the economy,’ but he’s still behind,” said Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster who also conducted the poll with Democrat Jeff Horwitt.
Mr. McInturff said a recent example of Republicans losing an election while leading with voters on handling the economy was the 2018 midterms, in which Democrats gained enough seats to retake control of the House.
Democrat Peter Hart, who also worked on the survey, said voters were considering more than the economy. More than half of those in the survey said they were concerned that Mr. Trump would divide rather than unite the country. “The 2020 presidential election finds voters looking to heal physically, economically and psychologically,” Mr. Hart said.
In addition to the edge on the economy, there were some other positive signals for Mr. Trump. By 12 percentage points, voters view the Republican Party as better suited to handle crime. Voters split nearly evenly on whether they want a president who would confront and challenge the establishment—a hallmark of Mr. Trump’s style—or someone who would bring competence and compassion.
Pollsters said Mr. Trump’s 88% support among Republicans—compared with Mr. Biden’s 96% support among Democrats—suggested that the president had room to grow his support in the final weeks before the election. Because the election is based on the electoral map and not the popular vote, the president needs to see gains in only a handful of states.
Micah Roberts, a Republican pollster who worked on the survey, said that Mr. Trump could pull off another Electoral College victory by drawing new voters to the polls in Michigan, Florida and other swing states, “and it doesn’t take thousands and thousands of people.”
While he tries to build support, Mr. Trump is lagging behind Mr. Biden on likability. In the last two polls, more voters have said they hold a positive view of Mr. Biden than a negative one—for the first time since 2018—though by a single percentage point. By comparison, negative views of Mr. Trump outweigh positive ones by 11 percentage points.
Mr. Biden “has improved his standing over the course of the campaign, which is remarkable given the coarseness of our politics,” Mr. Horwitt said.
Mr. Biden continues to gain with groups that backed Mr. Trump in 2016, such as seniors and white women. At the same time, Mr. Trump’s lead has weakened among some core parts of his base, including white men without college degrees.
A majority of voters are unhappy with the president’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Some 41% approve of his handling of Covid-19 in the latest poll, compared with 57% who disapprove.
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Regarding his own coronavirus diagnosis, just one-fourth of those surveyed said the president was taking the necessary precautions, while 44% said he was taking unnecessary risks.
The Journal/NBC News survey interviewed 1,000 registered voters from Oct. 9-12. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
Among the 1,000 voters, 42% identified themselves as Democrats and 36% as Republicans—a 6-point margin that is consistent with Journal/NBC News polling through the year. Last month’s survey found a 9-point difference, which pollsters said may have been a consequence of polling in the two days following the confrontational presidential debate. The Journal/NBC News pollsters don’t adjust the sample to match a predetermined share of Democrats or Republicans.