'Change' 2010 Style Turns the Political Screw


ECONOMY -- Specifically on the economy, 55 percent of likely voters disapprove of Obama's performance, and, tellingly, twice as many "strongly" disapprove, 45 percent, as strongly approve, 23 percent. Likely voters, moreover, divide on which party they trust more to handle the economy, 47 percent for the Republicans, 43 percent for the Democrats.

Compare that, again, to 2008: In ABC/Post pre-election polls, likely voters trusted Obama over McCain on the economy by as much as 56-38 percent.

Likely voters by 13 points, 44-31 percent, also say they think it would be a good thing rather than a bad thing if the Republicans took control of Congress -- not as broad a margin as it was for the Democrats in 2006, 49-26 percent, but another turn in the GOP's favor nonetheless.

While economic discontent clearly is working to the Republicans' advantage, other policy concerns come into play when likely voters pick the "single most important issue" in their vote. Those who say it's the economy, 37 percent, actually favor Democratic candidates, 54-42 percent. Republican-inclined voters instead select top issues such as "the way Washington is working," the deficit and taxes.

Nonetheless, the economy's impact is clear. Likely voters who say it's in "poor" shape -- half the total -- favor Republican candidates by more than 2-1, 67-26 percent. Those who say it's getting worse favor Republicans even more broadly, by 74-19 percent. Those who say it's getting better, by contrast, favor Democrats, 80-16 percent. But they comprise fewer than three in 10 likely voters.

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OBAMA -- For all the public's discontent, the president himself is less of a target than was his predecessor in 2006. Then, amid unhappiness with the Iraq war, only 40 percent of Americans approved of George W. Bush's job performance, while 57 percent disapproved. Today fewer overall, 45 percent, disapprove of Obama's work in office, although this goes to 52 percent of likely voters.

Logically, vote preferences, too, were more directly anti-Bush in 2006; likely voters then said by nearly 2-1, 33 percent to 18 percent, that they were voting in part to express opposition to him rather than support for him. Today, on Obama, it's essentially even, 28-26 percent, with the rest saying he's not directly a factor.

That said, Obama approvers favor Democratic House candidates by 87-9 percent, while likely voters who disapprove of the president favor Republicans by almost an identical margin, 86-9 percent. If more of his supporters were voting, his party would be in better shape.

RE-ELECT? -- Given the hazard to incumbents, it's worth nothing that even in tough times most get re-elected; in every election since 1950 at least 88 percent of House incumbents seeking re-election won it. And while just 21 percent of likely voters now approve of the way Congress is performing, many more, 54 percent, approve of their own representative's work in office.

Nonetheless, that approval rating is well below the average; indeed Americans' disapproval of their own representative, at 40 percent, is near its high in ABC/Post polling since 1989. And it's a sign of the public's dark mood that while 54 percent approve of their own representative, many fewer likely voters, 40 percent, say they're inclined to re-elect that individual.

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