Independents are not only important, they're ascendant: Forty percent of Americans in this survey identify themselves as independents, among the most in 29 years of ABC/Post polls (and roughly this high steadily since spring 2009). The past year has been one of the few periods in which the number of independents has surpassed both Democratic (now 31 percent) and Republican (24 percent) self-identification.
Overall, registered voters overall divide almost exactly evenly in their party preference for House candidates – 47 percent for the Republican candidate in their congressional district, 46 percent for the Democrat. It's 49-45 percent among those most likely to vote.
Among independents, it's 47 percent for the Republican candidate, 40 percent for the Democrat – and among independents who say they're likely to vote, it's a wide 53-36 percent advantage for Republican candidates.
PUSHBACK – There is pushback for Obama and his party. Dissatisfaction with the federal government, while still high, has eased slightly. The Democrats actually retain an advantage in trust over the Republicans to handle the economy, 42-34 percent, although a record 17 percent volunteer that they don't trust either party to fix the problem. And a mere 26 percent express confidence in the Republicans in Congress to make the right decisions for the country's future, trailing the Democrats (32 percent) and Obama (43 percent, a new low) alike.
Lack of confidence in the Republicans, plus their stubbornly low allegiance numbers since the Bush presidency went bad, indicate that they're not benefiting from affirmative support for their own plans, but rather from dissatisfaction with Obama and the Democratic-led Congress.
That's a weaker hand to play, and it's one reason that high-level enthusiasm among intended Republican voters is essentially no better than it is among intended Democratic voters. Thirty percent of those who plan to vote for a Republican candidate say they're "very enthusiastic" about it, but so are 28 percent of those who plan to support a Democrat. Compare those to "very enthusiastic" support among Obama's voters in 2008 – 68 percent.
The mighty do fall: The number of Americans who are confident in Obama to make the right decisions for the country's future has dropped by 18 points in the first year and a half of his presidency, from 61 percent a few days before his inauguration to, as noted, 43 percent now. The number lacking such confidence has gained 20 points, to 57 percent.
Obama, moreover, has trouble in his own house, at least on the economy. The one-month drop in his approval rating for handling the economy came almost exclusively among Democrats, down 15 points from June to July, albeit to a comparatively high 63 percent.
His overall approval rating, as noted, is 50-47 percent; but "strong" approvers trail strong disapprovers by 28 percent to 35 percent. His approval still towers among Democrats, at 82 percent. But it's 47 percent among independents and a mere 15 percent among Republicans.
The president's solace may be his comparison to Ronald Reagan – the last president to take office in the midst of a recessionary gale. In an ABC/Post poll at about his year and a half mark, and with unemployment then at 9.8 percent, Reagan's approval rating was 49-47 percent –almost precisely the same as Obama's now.