'Change' 2010 Style Turns the Political Screw

House Likely to Go Republican

A storm of economic and political discontent rages unabated in the final days of the 2010 midterm elections, positioning the Republican Party for solid gains in large part on the basis of what it's not: the party in power at a time of 9.6 percent unemployment.

The length and breadth of the economic downturn has fueled startling levels of public dismay, not so much eroding the coalition that elected Barack Obama two years ago as leaving it too dispirited to vote.

This ABC News/Washington Post poll finds that critics of the president and his policies, by contrast, are highly motivated -- and broadly pro-Republican.

The result is a turn of the screw: Riding the theme of "change" in 2008, Obama was supported by 82 percent of likely voters looking for "new ideas and a new direction." Today, by contrast, "new direction" voters -- as numerous now as they were two years ago -- favor Republican candidates for the House by a 21-point margin, 57-36 percent.

Overall, Republicans lead Democrats in House vote preference by 49-45 percent. That's narrowed from the GOP's remarkable 53-40 percent advantage in early September, a record in ABC/Post polling since 1981. But it's still enough to suggest substantial GOP gains.

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For some, the shouting's over: Two in 10 likely voters in this survey, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, say they've in fact voted already. Their choices reflect the broader population, 47-43 percent Republican vs. Democratic in House preference. Compare to 2008, when early voters backed Obama over John McCain by 58-40 percent.

Beneath the vote is the motivation. Among likely voters, 92 percent say the economy's in bad shape -- and despite $800 billion in stimulus spending, more say it's getting worse than better. Seventy-one percent say the country's headed seriously off on the wrong track.

Disapproval of Congress, a breathtaking 77 percent among likely voters, is its highest since 1994, when the GOP seized control after a stumbling start to the Clinton presidency. And 76 percent today are dissatisfied with the way the federal government is working, again a level unseen in 16 years.

Compared with 2008, voters who then said the country was on the wrong track favored Obama by 63-37 percent. Now "wrong track" likely voters favor Republican candidates for the House of Representatives by 65-29 percent.

Other comparisons underscore the point. In October 2008 Obama led McCain by 10 points among likely voters as the candidate who "better represents your own personal values," by 18 points as the one who "better understands the economic problems people in this country are having" and also by 18 points as better understanding "the problems of people like you." Among likely voters now, Republicans are essentially at parity, plus-4, minus-2 and minus-1, on each of these.

LIKELY -- The most profound changes are not in preferences, but who's motivated to act upon them. Take young voters: a core Obama group, he won them by 68-32 percent in 2008. Today registered voters that age favor Democratic candidates by a reasonably similar 60-37 percent. But among the relatively few 18- to 29-year-olds who say they're certain to vote, the margin dissolves to 51-49 percent (combining the last two ABC/Post polls for an adequate sample size).

Conclusion: Young adults still broadly favor Obama's party. But most of those who do simply aren't motivated to turn out in this election.

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