2010 Elections Exit Poll Analysis: The Political Price of Economic Pain

VIDEO: Nancy Pelosi

Voters frustrated with a sputtering economy called time Tuesday on a president who promised change, handing control of the House of Representatives to the Republicans and narrowing the Democratic advantage in the Senate.

The results underscored the economic distress defining the 2010 election. Eighty-nine percent of voters said the national economy's in bad shape -- nearly as many as the record 92 percent who said so two years ago. What changed is the direction of their ire: In 2008, 54 percent of such voters favored Barack Obama. This year, 55 percent backed Republicans for the House.

Only 14 percent, moreover, said their own family's financial situation has improved in the last two years -- the fewest in exit polls back to 1984. Forty-one percent, by contrast, said they're worse off -- and favored Republicans by nearly 30 points.

Few saw much respite: Compounding the political impact of the long downturn, 87 percent remain worried about the economy's direction in the next year -- including half "very" worried. They voted more than 2-1 for Republicans this year, 70-28 percent.

The economy has deeply affected the broader public mood. Sixty-one percent in the national exit poll said the country's headed seriously off on the wrong track; they supported Republicans by 75-23 percent. More broadly, 38 percent said they expect life for the next generation of Americans to be worse than it is today, vs. 32 percent better -- a negative balance on one aspect of the American dream.

Results of the 2010 exit polls were analyzed for ABC News by Langer Research Associates.

Dissatisfaction with Government

Seventy-four percent described themselves as dissatisfied or even angry about the way the federal government is working, compared with 71 percent in 1994, when the Republicans seized the House, and a whopping 79 percent in 1992, when they lost the presidency.

The "angry" vote differential, in particular, was huge -- vastly more so than in 1992 or 1994, the previous times the question was asked. Tuesday, angry voters (26 percent overall) went 84-13 percent in favor of Republicans for House. That gaping 71-point margin widened from 39 points, 73-34 percent, in favor of the Republicans, in 1994, and a 20-point margin, 56-36, for House Democrats among angry voters in 1992.

Another dramatic shift: Exit polls have had varying "most important issues" lists since 1992 with "the economy" as an issue. This year, 62 percent of voters picked it as the single most important issue in their vote -- and they voted 53-44 percent for Republicans for House. It was the first time economy voters favored Republicans.

Obama, Congress Unpopular

The Great Recession has taken its toll on Obama and Congress alike. Forty-five percent of voters said they approved of Obama's job performance; 54 percent disapproved -- and voted 85-11 percent for GOP House candidates. Critically, just a third said the administration's economic stimulus program has helped the economy -- a harsh judgment after $800 billion spent.

The Congress came out far more unpopular: just 25 percent of voters approved of the way it's doing its job.

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