NBC/WSJ poll: Public gives Trump thumbs down on Russia, thumbs up on economy

WASHINGTON — After an eventful and tumultuous month in American politics, majorities of American voters disapprove of President Donald Trump's handling of Russia and immigration at the border, while half approve of his job on the economy, according to a new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Trump's overall job-approval rating in the poll stands at 45 percent among registered voters — up 1 point from June — while 52 percent of voters disapprove of his job.

That stability in Trump's numbers stands out given the controversies and news over the past month — the separated families at the border, Trump's contentious NATO meetings, his less contentious meeting with Russia's Vladimir Putin — says Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted this survey with Democratic pollsters Peter Hart and Fred Yang.

See inside Trump's meeting with Putin:

"These numbers don't budge," McInturff said. "The Republican numbers don't budge."

Indeed, the new NBC/WSJ poll finds the president's approval rating among Republican voters at 88 percent — the highest of his presidency — and 29 percent of all voters strongly approve of his job, which is another high for Trump in the poll.

"The more Trump gets criticized by the media, the more his base seems to rally behind him," says Yang, the Democratic pollster.

By comparison, just 9 percent of Democrats give the president's job performance a thumbs up, and 44 percent of all voters strongly disapprove of his job.

In the poll — half of which was conducted before and the day of Trump's July 16 news conference in Helsinki with Putin, the other half afterward — just 26 percent approve of the president's handling of the relationship between the United States and Russia. Fifty-one percent disapprove.

Not surprisingly, Republicans are more supportive of Trump's handling of Russia (53 percent of them approve) than Democrats (6 percent) and even Independents (14 percent) are.

"I think he is trying to build relations with Russia so that we do not have a war," said Republican respondent Frank Garrido of Florida when asked to describe his reaction to Trump's meetings with NATO allies and Russia's Putin. "It is better to talk to [Putin] than to not. I think the Democrats are just maniacs."

IndependentDeborah Linzy of Arkansas had a counter view, saying, "I think [Trump] was — for lack of a better word — disrespectful to the NATO allies and much too friendly with Putin. I do not consider Russia an ally."

Additionally, the survey finds that only 31 percent of voters back Trump's handling the treatment of parents and children at the border who entered the United States illegally at the border, and 38 percent approve of his handling of trade with foreign countries.

But 44 percent of voters approve of Trump's handling of the situation in North Korea — up from the 34 percent of adults who said this in October 2017.

And 50 percent of voters support Trump's handling of the economy, which is up 8 points from October.

Voters divided over Mueller's investigation

Also what hasn't budged in the NBC/WSJ poll are general attitudes about special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's involvement in the 2016 election — even after Mueller's July 13 indictments against 12 Russian intelligence officials.

A plurality of voters — 46 percent — believe Mueller's investigation should continue, versus 38 percent who think it should come to an end. Those numbers are essentially unchanged from last month, with most Democrats wanting it to continue, and with most Republicans preferring it to end.

But other Russia-related numbers have moved: 65 percent of voters believe the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election (up 12 points from a year ago); 41 percent say the interference affected the election's outcome (up 8 points from a year ago); and 30 percent think Democrat Hillary Clinton would have won without the interference (up 6 points from last year).

Twenty-eight percent of all voters view Mueller positively, including 49 percent of Democrats but just 9 percent of Republicans.

That's compared with 22 percent of all voters who see Mueller in a negative light, including 38 percent of Republicans but only 9 percent of Democrats.

Democrats' 2018 lead shrinks to 6 points

The NBC/WSJ poll shows 49 percent of voters preferring a Democratic-controlled Congress as the outcome for November's midterm elections, versus 43 percent who want Republicans to stay in charge.

That 6-point lead in congressional preference for Democrats is down from last month's 10-point margin, 50 percent to 40 percent, though the difference is well within the survey's margin of error.

Independent voters prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress by more than 20 points, 48 percent to 26 percent.

And Democrats continue to enjoy an enthusiasm advantage heading into the midterms: 65 percent of Democratic voters have a high level of interest in the upcoming elections — registering either a "9" or "10" on a 10-point scale — compared with 49 percent of GOP voters.

Economy, health care are top midterm issues

Finally, asked to name the top one or two issues that will decide their vote in November, a combined 36 percent said the economy and jobs; 33 percent said health care; 27 percent said immigration; and 20 percent said guns.

A month ago, the top combined responses were health care (38 percent), the economy and jobs (37 percent), guns (25 percent) and taxes and spending (24 percent).

The live-caller NBC/WSJ poll was conducted July 15-18 of 900 registered voters — almost half reached by cellphone — and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.3 percentage points.

NBC's Emma Barnett contributed to this article.