WASHINGTON — Fueled by increased enthusiasm from women, Latinos and young voters for the upcoming midterm election, Democrats hold a 9-point lead among likely voters over Republicans in congressional preference, according to the latest national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
But nearly two weeks before Election Day, the same poll also shows President Donald Trump at his highest job rating yet as president, as well as Republicans with their largest lead on the economy in the poll's history.
"It's a barnburner," says Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey with Democratic pollster Fred Yang and Hart Research Associates.
Yang adds, "The current data shows that the Democratic advantage has ebbed but still with a large advantage. And the GOP shows some life."
In the poll, 50 percent of likely voters prefer Democrat to control Congress after the November elections, versus 41 percent who want Republicans to stay in charge — up 1 point from Democrats' lead in the September NBC/WSJ survey.
Among the wider pool of registered voters, however, the Democratic advantage is 7 points, 48 percent to 41 percent, which is down from their 12-point edge in September.
Democrats lead among African Americans (81 percent to 11 percent), Latinos (66 percent to 26 percent), white women with college degrees (61 percent to 28 percent), those ages 18-34 (58 percent to 32 percent), all women (57 percent to 32 percent) and independents (41 percent to 27 percent).
Indeed, this is the second-straight NBC/WSJ poll where Democrats have enjoyed a 25-point lead among all women.
Republicans, meanwhile, are ahead among men (52 percent to 38 percent), whites (49 percent to 41 percent) and white women without college degrees (48 percent to 40 percent).
"Despite these improvements [for Republicans], you've got to look where the tilt is going. And the tilt didn't change," McInturff observes.
"Unprecedented enthusiasm" for both parties
McInturff also says that likely voter models — narrowing a poll to only the voters most likely to participate — historically have favored the Republicans in off-year and midterm elections. But in this poll, Democrats enjoy a larger lead among likely voters due to increased enthusiasm from key parts of their base.
The percentage of women, Latinos and young voters expressing high interest in the midterms — those registering either a "9" or "10" on a 10-point scale — has increased by double digits from their average in the past NBC/WSJ polls this year.
Seventy-two percent of Democrats say they have high interest in the upcoming election, versus 68 percent of Republican respondents.
And among all registered voters, 65 percent have high interest — the largest for a midterm electorate dating back to 2006 in the NBC/WSJ poll.
"Midterms are about mobilization, and we are headed into the stretch run with unprecedented enthusiasm among both parties," says Yang, the Democratic pollster.
Trump's job rating reaches new high
President Trump's job rating among registered voters stands at 47 percent approve, 49 percent disapprove - up from 44 percent approve, 52 percent disapprove a month ago.
That's his highest rating as president in the NBC/WSJ poll.
Among likely voters, however, Trump's rating dips to 45 percent approve, 52 percent disapprove.
Thirty-three percent of registered voters in the poll say their vote for Congress in 2018 will be a signal of opposition to the president; 29 percent say their vote will be a signal of support; and 36 percent say it won't be a signal either way.
Republicans lead on the economy, Democrats ahead on health care
The poll also finds Republicans with a 15-point advantage on the question of which party better deals with the economy — their biggest lead on this question in the poll's history.
Forty-three percent of registered voters say the GOP better handles the economy, while 28 percent pick the Democrats; the GOP held a 14-point edge on this question in August.
Republicans also hold the advantage on trade (R 17), handling the Supreme Court nomination process (R 3) and changing how Washington works (R 1).
Democrats, meanwhile, have the advantage on looking out for women's interests (D 29), health care (D 18), looking out for the middle class (D 8) and immigration (D 4).
Asked which one or two issues would be the most important factor in deciding their vote, 38 percent said the economy and jobs; 31 percent said health care, 23 percent said changing how things work; and 22 percent each said looking out for the middle class and immigration. (Respondents were allowed up to two answers.)
80 percent say the U.S. is "divided"
Finally, the NBC/WSJ poll finds 80 percent of registered voters — including 85 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of Republicans — believing that the United States is divided, versus 18 percent who say it's united.
When those who answered "divided" were asked to describe in a few words what is most responsible for the division, some of the top Republican responses were "Barack Obama," "Liberals," "Democrats" and "The Media."
Some of the top responses among Democrats were "Donald Trump," "The Republican Party" and "The Media."
These divided answers and strong feelings, Yang says, indicate "an electorate in turmoil and flux."
_The live-caller NBC/WSJ poll was conducted Oct. 14-17 of 900 registered voters - almost half via cell phone - and it has a margin of error of plus-minus 3.3 percentage points. Among the 645 likely voters in the poll, the margin of error is plus-minus 3.9 percentage points._