What's bad for the president is dreadful for his party. Shortly after he took office the Democrats held a record 26-point advantage over the Republicans in trust to handle the country's main problems. By this June, that was down to 12 points. Today, it's a mere 3-point spread, 40-37 percent – similar to what it was in October 1994, just before the Republicans last seized control of Congress.
Similarly, Americans divide essentially evenly, 42-40 percent, on which party they trust more to handle the economy. That's narrowed from an 8-point gap in the Democrats' favor in June and 19 points in early 2008. It last was this close eight years ago.
The Republicans hold 6-point advantages in trust to handle taxes and the deficit, and on Afghanistan they've turned a 10-point disadvantage in the spring to a scant (not statistically significant) 4-point edge now. Democrats are down to a slight 5-point edge on health care – the closest division on this issue in ABC/Post polls since the question first was asked in 1991.
The GOP also has improved on some softer measures: Americans now divide almost evenly, 45-42 percent, on which party, the Democrats or Republicans, better represents their personal values; that compares to a 10-point Democratic lead a year ago, and 16 points before the 2006 election in which the Democrats regained control of Congress.
And while the Democrats retain a 9-point advantage as the party that "is more concerned with the needs of people like you," that's contracted from a 28-point lead in October 2006.
The Democrats do have some pushback, largely in results indicating that the public's preferences are more a revolt against the status quo than an endorsement of the GOP. For instance, while only 30 percent now say Obama's economic policy has improved the economy, about as few, 32 percent, think the Republicans' would.
The public also divides evenly, 46-47 percent, on whether or not the Republicans have offered the country "a clear direction" that's different from the Democrats'. Likewise on many of the issues noted above, such as trust to handle the economy and the country's main problems overall, the GOP is about even, not ahead.
Indeed incumbents of both parties are at risk, as some Republican primary results have shown. In one strong measure of anti-incumbency, 56 percent of Americans say most of the Democrats in Congress do not deserve re-election. But, in another, 58 percent say the same thing about most of the Republicans in Congress.
Just 33 percent of registered voters are inclined to re-elect their representative; 57 percent say they'd rather look around. That peaked at 62 percent in July, its highest in polling since 1989. But it's still high – and while "re-elect" vs. "look around" gets an even split among Democrats, it's more than 2-1 for "look around" among Republicans and independents alike.
For all their gains, there's been no groundswell of Republican allegiance. Just 25 percent of Americans in this poll identify themselves as Republicans, vs. 31 percent as Democrats; GOP self-identification remains well below its peak, an annual average of 31 percent in 2003. But Democratic allegiance is off, too. Instead independents have outnumbered partisans steadily since spring 2009, something that's happened in just one previous period in ABC/Post polls, in the mid-'90s.