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NBC Poll Shows Pessimism About Obama 2nd Term, Lauer Spins it as Pessimism About 'Washington in General'

Following a report on Thursday's NBC Today in which political director Chuck Todd touted a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, co-host Matt Lauer tried to spin one finding: "...only 53% say they're optimistic about a second term for Obama and 47% say they are pessimistic. Is this really more pessimism about Washington in general?"

Todd accepted the characterization: "It is. You know, you see it in the poll....this is a much less naive public, maybe let's put it that way, after they've watched all of this in Washington. And a full 70% now think that the next year is going to be acrimonious." Todd then portrayed Republicans as embracing such acrimony: "...this is really dangerous in the talks, actually...I talked to one Republican who said, 'How low can we go? We don't have a lot to lose.' And I pointed out, 'But you would have a lot to gain, because the par's pretty low from the public's point of view.'"

In the preceding report, Todd highlighted findings positive for President Obama:

In our poll, 76% said they'd be willing to accept higher tax rates on the wealthy, including 61% of Republicans. When asked who they trusted to handle the fiscal cliff, Americans picked the President [38%] over Speaker Boehner [19%] by a 2-1 margin. And if there's no deal, more folks would blame the Republicans [24%] than the President [19%]. But the real loser would be all of Washington, as a large majority would blame both sides equally [56%].

Notice how Todd described Obama having a "2 to 1" advantage over Boehner in terms of who people trust more on the fiscal cliff. Meanwhile, 14% trust both men equally and 28% trust neither of them. Divided numbers like that hardly show a consensus of public opinion.

Todd then emphasized how "more folks would blame the Republicans than the President," while blame for either is under 25%. He of course followed with his admission that most would blame both sides.

One poll finding that Todd chose to ignore was the fact that 46% of respondents wanted Congress to "take the lead role in setting policy for the country," compared to only 40% wanting the President to take the lead.

In a follow-up question on who respondents meant by "Congress" – Democrats in the Senate or Republicans in the House – 25% said they meant House Republicans should take a lead role, compared to just 7% saying Senate Democrats. 12% advocated equal roles by both sides.

Here is a full transcript of the December 13 segment:

7:00AM ET TEASE:

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Not so fast. After signs of progress on a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff, new evidence today of a breakdown in talks. With time running out, what will it take to get an agreement?

7:02AM ET SEGMENT:

MATT LAUER: Let's start with the standoff in Washington over how to avoid that fiscal cliff. Why are both sides now digging in? Why can't they work out a compromise? Chuck Todd is NBC's chief White House correspondent, and of course, our political director. Chuck, good morning.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Deal or No Deal? Both Sides Back Away From Fiscal Cliff Compromise]

CHUCK TODD: Good morning, Matt. You know, the only reason one can't describe the fiscal cliff talks as a total disaster right now is that the two sides are still talking. But they are very far apart. And the public, they don't seem to have near the patience for this gridlock as they've had before.

JOHN BOEHNER: We've got some serious differences.

TODD: There's no end in sight to the fiscal cliff standoff today. At a news conference Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner threw cold water on any hints of progress in talks with President Obama.

BOEHNER: The longer the White House slow-walks this – this discussion, the closer our economy gets to the fiscal cliff.

TODD: The White House fired back, insisting Republicans are the ones being inflexible.

JAY CARNEY: They have refused to accept the fundamental fact that the top 2% of earners in America are not going to have their tax cuts extended.

TODD: The two sides have been swapping proposals all week, but are still at odds. The President called Boehner late Tuesday attempting to save the talks. Aides on both sides say it was a tense conversation. Meanwhile, the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows an increasingly fed up public. By large majorities, both Democrats and Republicans say their leaders must find a way to broker a deal. 70% of Democrats and 59% of Republicans want their own party leaders to make compromises, even if it means not sticking to long-held positions on taxes and entitlements.

BARACK OBAMA: We ask the wealthiest Americans to pay a slightly higher tax rate.

TODD: But the President does have an edge on the big issue of taxes. In our poll, 76% said they'd be willing to accept higher tax rates on the wealthy, including 61% of Republicans. When asked who they trusted to handle the fiscal cliff, Americans picked the President [38%] over Speaker Boehner [19%] by a 2-1 margin. And if there's no deal, more folks would blame the Republicans [24%] than the President [19%]. But the real loser would be all of Washington, as a large majority would blame both sides equally [56%]. And right now, no planned meeting or talks today between the President and Speaker Boehner. But maybe the one piece of good news is the President's schedule is completely empty today, other than a Hanukkah reception, so maybe something will happen.

LAUER: Alright, Chuck Todd, let's talk about the key sticking point in these talks. According to the latest poll that you just mentioned, a majority of Americans, we're talking about 65%, think President Obama has a mandate to raise taxes on the wealthy, but only 53% say they're optimistic about a second term for Obama and 47% say they are pessimistic. Is this really more pessimism about Washington in general?

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Not So Great Expectations; NBC News/WSJ Poll On Prospects for Obama's Second Term]

TODD: It is. You know, you see it in the poll. It's funny, four years ago, you had the public in the wake of the historic election of the first African-American president, a majority of the country in December right after that election thought the two parties would actually have a period of unity. You know, they weren't naive, but they thought that 2009 would be a period of unity. Four years later, this is a much less naive public, maybe let's put it that way, after they've watched all of this in Washington. And a full 70% now think that the next year is going to be acrimonious. They're not optimistic that a deal's going to get done. They seem to be split right down the middle. So, yes, you know, if there is – and this is really dangerous in the talks, actually, Matt. I talked to one Republican who said, "How low can we go? We don't have a lot to lose." And I pointed out, "But you would have a lot to gain, because the par's pretty low from the public's point of view."

LAUER: Alright, Chuck Todd in Washington this morning. Chuck, thank you very much.