A third of registered voters are inclined to reelect their representatives in Congress, the fewest since the Republican Party rode voter discontent to control of the House and Senate 16 years ago, according to a new ABC News-Washington Post poll.
Nearly six in 10 said they'll instead look for someone new come the fall elections.
The impact on congressional races is uncertain, and the finding may chill incumbents of all stripes. But the dynamic does have a partisan cast: Republicans and swing-voting independents alike are far more likely than Democrats to be looking for change in Congress.
The finding is one of a variety of challenges for President Obama and his party in the current political climate, ranging from the tactical, such as weak support among senior citizens, to the thematic, including long-running economic anxiety and the hazardous big-government label he now wears.
But the Democrats push back on other measures, including an improved lead in trust to handle the country's problems overall; Obama's continued majority job approval, now 54 percent; and an advantage for the president over the Republicans specifically on three heavy-hitter issues, the economy, health care and financial regulations.
Obama's on a two-day tour this week intended, aides said, to demonstrate his focus on middle-class and Main Street concerns.
Reduced to vote preferences for November, registered voters divide by a narrow 48-43 percent between the Democratic and the Republican candidates in their congressional districts. Support for the Republicans has slipped by 5 points from February, a sign of hope for the in-party, but the margin remains closer than comfortable for the Democrats, given their 11-point advantage in party allegiance more generally. Among independents, the key swing voters, 44 percent prefer the Republican candidates in their congressional district versus 39 percent for the Democrats.
HAZARDS – The results describe a mine-strewn political environment for all comers, with long-running economic anxiety weighting heavily on public attitudes. Nearly three-quarters of Americans, 73 percent, remain worried about the direction of the economy, a view associated with anti-incumbent sentiment. Even as he leads the Republicans on some key issues, Obama's own approval ratings on those same issues are tepid at best, including a 49-49 percent division on the economy and 55 percent disapproval of his handling of the federal deficit.
Thirty-nine percent, moreover, think Obama's policies have improved the economy, and again fewer than half, 44 percent, said he's doing the right amount (versus too much or too little) to represent the interests of middle-class Americans. That's a far cry from the 66 percent who thought he'd look after the middle class in a pre-election poll by ABC and the Post in June 2008.
In another vulnerability for the president, Americans by 56-40 percent said they preferred smaller government with fewer services -- almost exactly the average the past 26 years -- but by a vast 77-15 percent thought Obama prefers the opposite, larger government with more services. That, plus concerns about the deficit, seem ripe for a 2010 campaign theme for the Republican Party.