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Republicans have advantages on immigration, crime and the economy

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Voters overwhelmingly say they trust Republicans to do a better job than Democrats dealing with border security, crime, the economy and immigration, a new national NBC News poll finds.

By some smaller margins, registered voters also say Democrats are better on health care, abortion, the coronavirus and education.

And the two parties are essentially tied on protecting democracy and looking out for the middle class.

“On this survey after 20 or 30 years, Republicans dealing with the economy [versus Democrats], immigration and crime are all at their all-time highs,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies, who conducted the poll alongside Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt and his team at Hart Research.

“The other thing that is maybe not expected is these phrases: ‘protecting our constitutional rights’ and ‘protecting democracy.’ These are things where overall the electorate thinks Republicans are more focused and would do a better job than Democrats,” McInturff added.

The numbers illustrate the feelings of an electorate that has grown deeply dissatisfied with President Joe Biden — but also maintains serious reservations about his most likely rival in the 2024 presidential race, former President Donald Trump. Indeed, the GOP advantage on the economy is the highest recorded in more than three decades of NBC News polling. But it’s at about the same level as it was in September 2022, before Democrats notched surprisingly strong midterm election results in part because of those voter concerns about the GOP. 

One of the issues that drove those midterm results was abortion, which continues to be a key issue area in which Democrats maintain an advantage over Republicans. 

By wide margins, voters believe that Democrats are better than Republicans at dealing with health care, abortion, Covid-19 and education.

Still, Republicans have advantages on the issues with the widest margins — dealing with border security and with crime.

That includes 50% of registered voters surveyed who said the Republican Party is better at dealing with border security, compared to 20% of voters who picked the Democratic Party.

And 46% of those polled say they see Republicans as better at dealing with crime, while just 20% said Democrats are.

On the other side, 45% of voters said Democrats are better at dealing with health care and 46% said Democrats are better at dealing with abortion. That’s compared to 22% of voters who said Republicans are better at dealing with health care and 28% who said Republicans are better on abortion.

NBC News’ pollsters flagged an alarming trend for Democrats on one particular issue — looking out for the middle class.

The survey found that 34% of voters believe Republicans are better at looking out for the middle class, while 36% say the same of Democrats. The 2-point margin in favor of Democrats is the lowest it has been in the history of the poll.

“The Democrats … have held over 30 years as high as a 29-point advantage as being the party better able to deal with and handle issues of concern to the middle class,” McInturff said.

In October 2018, the last time an NBC News poll measured this question, voters gave Democrats an 8-point advantage.

“As you talk about what’s the demonstrable proof that the Democrats are no longer as strongly positioned as the party of the middle class, it’s watching … a 19-point lead [in 2012] evaporate to 2 points” today, McInturff added.   

Most of the issues — like immigration, crime, the economy, health care and abortion — are base issues for voters, meaning most Republicans will agree that Republicans are better at handling them and most Democrats will say the same about their party.

But independent voters polled agree that Republicans are better at dealing with crime (by 19 points) and with the economy (by 25 points). Independents also agreed that Democrats are better at dealing with abortion (by 20 points), education (by 11 points) and looking out for the middle class (by 10 points), though by smaller margins than they gave Republicans in dealing with crime and the economy.

Swing voters’ opinions of issue handling by both parties largely tracked with the topline numbers. Voters in swing states agreed that Republicans are better at dealing with the economy, crime, border security, immigration, protecting democracy and protecting constitutional rights.

Swing state voters also agreed that Democrats are better at looking out for the middle class and dealing with education, the coronavirus, abortion and health care. Other swing voter groups, like suburban women and women ages 50-plus, also agreed with the topline results on those issues.

Moderates, who make up 34% of the total poll sample, agreed with the topline results on all but two issues — protecting constitutional rights and protecting democracy. Moderate voters say Democrats are better at handling those two issues, while those surveyed overall tipped those issues in the GOP column.

The national NBC News poll — conducted Sept. 15-19 of 1,000 registered voters, including 848 contacted by cellphone — has an overall margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

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