Poll: Ahead of 2010 Midterm Elections, Incumbent Support Its Lowest Since 1994

Measured against the Republicans, Obama's 11-point advantage in trust to handle the economy today compares with a 37-point lead, 61-24 percent, a year ago, a record for any president in ABC-Post polling. His 10-point lead on health care compares with 28 points last June. And on the deficit, his very slim 4-point edge now compares with 26 points, again last June.

Given his arms-control agreement with Russia and international summit on nuclear terrorism, Obama may be less than delighted with his rating on handling nuclear weapons issues, 49 percent approval, albeit with lower disapproval, 37 percent, and more undecided than on other issues tested in this poll. His best rating is for handling the situation in Afghanistan, with 56 percent approval, including 42 percent among Republicans.

In his overall job approval rating, though, Obama's at a new low among Republicans, 12 percent; among conservatives, 25 percent; and also among liberals, albeit at a still-high 76 percent. He's still popular in his own party, 85 percent approval, and has 52 percent approval among independents.

But Obama's approval rating among young adults, one of the keys to his election in 2008, has eased to 59 percent. And he has 47 percent approval from senior citizens, a more reliable group when it comes to election turnout.

VOTE – Differential turnout can matter especially in midterm elections, in which many fewer people show up to vote than in presidential contests. Among seniors, for example, 87 percent said they're registered to vote, and they divided by 47-41 percent for Republican vs. Democratic candidates. Young adults are more apt to favor Democrats but not at the levels at which they supported Obama. And they're much less likely to be registered to vote.

ABC News Poll: Age Differences, Gender Gap, Party Choices

Beyond age differences, there was also a sharp gender gap in this survey; women favored Democratic over Republicans candidates by 54-37 percent, while men favor Republicans by 50-41 percent. Part of this is because women are simply more apt than men to be Democrats; they're also especially more apt to approve of Obama's handling of health care overhaul.

Many of these differences appear in the fundamental question of preferences for smaller vs. larger government. Beyond Republicans and conservatives, preference for smaller government peaks among seniors (up sharply in the past year to 65 percent, likely related in part to their disenchantment with health care overhaul), men (61 percent, vs. 52 percent among women) and independents (60 percent). All are likely groups for the GOP to target with an Obama-big government message.

Provisos are in order: The generic horse race is a rough gauge, given the role of local issues and personalities in congressional races. Campaigns matter (ask Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani), with the 2010 midterms more than six months off. And in the end, anti-incumbency only counts when it finds a place to go: While it's customary for sizable numbers of Americans to say they'll look around, in the end, most incumbents usually are reelected. The question is whether the Republicans can harness the current sentiment, as they did so successfully 16 years ago.

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