Biden would enter 2016 race as most popular candidate: poll

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Biden Most Favorable Candidate...If He Runs

Joe Biden hasn't yet announced his plans for a 2016 White House bid, but a new poll shows that he would enter the race as the most popular presidential candidate if he chose to toss his hat into the ring.

According to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 40 percent of Americans have a positive impression of Biden, while 28 percent have a negative impression (+12).

That's compared to fellow Democrats Bernie Sanders (+10) and Hillary Clinton (-8), and to top-tier GOP candidates Ben Carson (+8), Carly Fiorina (+7) and Donald Trump (-33).

Biden would also out-perform Clinton in hypothetical head-to-head general election matchups against top Republican presidential hopefuls.

PHOTOS: Joe Biden mulls over presidential run

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Joe Biden as he mulls over a presidential run
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Biden would enter 2016 race as most popular candidate: poll
FILE - In this Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, file photo, Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a White House Champions of Change Law Enforcement and Youth meeting, in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. CNN said Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, it will allow Biden to participate in the first Democratic presidential primary debate even if he decides that day to be a candidate. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Solar Power International Trade Show in Anaheim, Calif., Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015. Taking aim at his potential political opponents, Biden railed against Republicans who "deny climate change" and want to shut down the federal government over funding for Planned Parenthood, and pleaded with them to "just get out of the way." (AP Photo/Christine Cotter)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 10: Stephen talks with Vice President Joe Biden, on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Thursday Sept 10, 2015 on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS via Getty Images)
In this Sept. 10, 2015, photo, Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a labor rally in New York. In one minute, Biden seems like a presidential candidate-in-waiting, eating up adoration from die-hard supporters who are pleading with him to run. The next minute, he seems light-years away from convincing himself he’s ready to run _ a man still reeling from personal tragedy. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
In this Sept. 7, 2015, photo, Vice President Joe Biden, center, greets some of the crowd as he walks in the annual Labor Day parade in Pittsburgh. In one minute, Biden seems like a presidential candidate-in-waiting, eating up adoration from die-hard supporters who are pleading with him to run. The next minute, he seems light-years away from convincing himself he’s ready to run _ a man still reeling from personal tragedy. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
In this Sept. 7, 2015, photo, a crowd gathers, many wearing union shirts, in front of Vice President Joe Biden as he speaks before joining in the annual Labor Day parade in Pittsburgh. Hearing chants of "run Joe, run," Biden marched in Pittsburgh's annual Labor Day parade on Monday as speculation swirled about a potential late entry into the Democratic presidential campaign. In one minute, Biden seems like a presidential candidate-in-waiting, eating up adoration from die-hard supporters who are pleading with him to run. The next minute, he seems light-years away from convincing himself he’s ready to run _ a man still reeling from personal tragedy. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Vice President Joe Biden puts on a United Steelworkers hat before he spoke to a crowd before he joined in the annual Labor Day parade on Monday, Sept. 7, 2015, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
In this Sept. 10, 2015, photo, Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, in New York. In one minute, Biden seems like a presidential candidate-in-waiting, eating up adoration from die-hard supporters who are pleading with him to run. The next minute, he seems light-years away from convincing himself he’s ready to run _ a man still reeling from personal tragedy. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)
In this Sept. 4, 2015, photo, Vice President Joe Biden, right, stands in the Oval Office of the White House during a meeting between President Barack Obama and King Salman of Saudi Arabia in Washington. In one minute, Biden seems like a presidential candidate-in-waiting, eating up adoration from die-hard supporters who are pleading with him to run. The next minute, he seems light-years away from convincing himself he’s ready to run _ a man still reeling from personal tragedy. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Vice President Joe Biden discusses the Iran nuclear deal with Jewish community leaders at the David Posnack Jewish Community Center in Davie, Fla. on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. Biden sought to allay concerns of South Florida Jewish leaders who fear Iran won too many concessions in the agreement, which seeks to curb the country's nuclear program in exchange for hundreds of billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)
FILE - In this July 21, 2015, file photo, Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a roundtable discussion at the Advanced Manufacturing Center at Community College of Denver. Although Biden is considering whether to enter the presidential race, he skipped this week’s Democratic National Committee summer meeting. Doing so created an opening for front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton to consolidate her party’s support. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)
FILE - In this May 26, 2015 file photo, Vice President Joe Biden listens to remarks to the media during a meeting between President Barack Obama and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Although Biden has yet to make a decision on a run for the presidency, his advisers say the discussions taking form in the last several weeks are serious enough that the vice president and his associates have started gaming out mechanics like fundraising, ballot deadlines and an early primary state strategy. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
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If the 2016 election was held today, voters overall say they'd back Clinton over Trump by 10 points (49 percent to 39 percent), but the former secretary of state would be statistically tied with Fiorina (45 percent for Fiorina, compared to 44 percent for Clinton), Carson (46 percent for Carson, compared to 45 percent for Clinton), and former Florida governor Jeb Bush (44 percent for Bush, compared to 45 percent for Clinton).

But Biden would fare better, besting Bush by eight points (48 percent to 40 percent), Fiorina by six points (47 percent to 41 percent), Carson by eight points (49 percent to 41 percent), and Trump by 19 points (56 percent to 35 percent).

In a hypothetical matchup with Donald Trump, Sanders would also handily defeat the real estate mogul, getting 52 percent of the general election vote compared to Trump's 36 percent.

Part of Biden's current popularity is almost certainly attributable to the fact that he's not officially in the 2016 race. Most of the media coverage of the vice president's potential run has centered around his decision-making about a campaign and the outpouring of sympathy for his family after the tragic death of his son, Beau. None of his potential rivals have aggressively attacked his record, including past gaffes and previously held policy positions that might now be anathema to the Democratic Party's progressives.

"History has shown that the public has a much harsher filter when people become candidates," says Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the poll along with Democratic pollster Peter Hart.

And Biden still trails in the Democratic primary, capturing the support of 17 percent of Democratic primary voters, compared to 35 percent for Sanders and 42 percent for Clinton.

If Biden chooses not to pursue a run for president, Clinton's lead with Democrats would jump. Fifty-three percent of Democratic primary voters say they'd support Clinton without Biden in the race, compared to 38 percent who would back Sanders.

Clinton's overall favorability rating now stands at 39 percent positive, 47 percent negative. When Clinton announced her presidential candidacy in April of this year, that rating was 42 percent positive, 42 percent negative.

The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted Sept. 20-24 of 1,000 adults (including nearly 400 reached by cell phone), and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.

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