Poll: Democrats Hold Slightly Narrowed Lead

Democrats head to Election Day with a continued advantage in voter preference, fueled by discontent with the war in Iraq and broad unhappiness with George W. Bush and the Republican-led Congress alike.

The president's party may have gained back some ground: The Democrats' lead among likely voters in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll is perhaps a bit narrower than its recent level, unseen in congressional elections since post-Watergate 1974 and 1976.

Still, discontent remains impressive. Just 40 percent of Americans approve of George W. Bush's job performance, the lowest for a president heading into a midterm election since Harry Truman in 1950, when his party lost 29 seats in Congress. Ronald Reagan's rating in 1982 was 42 percent, similar to Bush's now; that year the Republicans lost 26 seats.

Among registered voters, 60 percent disapprove of the way the Republican-led Congress is handling its job, 59 percent say the country is headed in the wrong direction and 53 percent say the war in Iraq was not worth fighting. A majority hasn't backed the war in two years.

Fifty-three percent of registered voters in this poll support Democratic candidates for Congress, while 43 percent support Republicans. Among likely voters it's 51-45 percent, less broad than the Democrats' double-digit advantage in the last ABC/Post poll, but still sufficient for change: Republicans won the national House vote by seven points in 1994, the year they gained 52 seats and took control of Congress.

The Democrats' advantage is remarkable in what has been mostly a 50/50 nation. The national vote for House, in the last four elections has been, stated as Democrat-Republican, 47-49 percent, 45-50 percent, 47-47 percent, and 47-48 percent.

2006 Vote Preference (Among Registered Voters)
  Democratic Candidate Republican Candidate
1/26/06   54%   38%
4/9/06   55%   40%
5/15/06   52%   40%
6/25/06   52%   39%
8/6/06   52%   39%
9/7/06   50%   42%
10/8/06   54%   41%
10/22/06   54%   41%
11/4/06   53%   43%

Republican candidates are doing better in groups where some late improvement might be expected -- for example, among married men, previously undecided independents and people who say their financial situation has improved in the last year. They also get some help from a sense, expressed by nearly half of registered voters, that the Democrats have not offered clear policy alternatives.

Married women, a changeable group that House Republicans won by nine points in 2004, split about evenly now. Democrats lead among independents, classic swing voters, by a still-hefty 56-38 percent; it was 59-31 percent among independents in the last ABC/Post poll Oct. 22.

Very few registered or likely voters -- just two or three percent -- are undecided in this survey. Undecideds are a product of polling technique; other polls in the past few days have had them as high as eight percent of likely voters.

The generic congressional horse race captures attitudes nationally, but doesn't predict how candidates will fare in individual state- and district-level races. The mood is not broadly anti-incumbent; 56 percent of registered voters approve of their own representative's job performance. Fewer, as low as 49 percent, approved of their own representative shortly before the 1994 election.

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