GOP Advantage Eases, but Still Large, as Economic Optimism Shows a Pulse

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TEA and PLEDGES -- The economy is not the sole factor to watch; another is the Tea Party political movement, whose influence looks to have faded. In July, 30 percent of registered voters said they'd be more apt to support a candidate if he or she were affiliated with the Tea Party. Today, with its candidates nominated and under scrutiny, that's dropped to 18 percent. Opposition to such candidates, meanwhile, has held about steady at 28 percent, meaning Tea Party affiliation has gone from a neutral factor to a net negative. (The numbers are very similar among likely voters.)

Overall 40 percent of Americans say they support the Tea Party (13 percent strongly), while 47 percent oppose it (18 percent strongly); among likely voters this goes to an even split. Regardless, there's widespread skepticism its candidates would be able to change the culture of Washington -- 32 percent say so, 63 percent not.

At the same time, Tea Party supporters retain a big edge in commitment. Among registered voters who strongly support the movement, 92 percent say they're certain to vote next month. Voting intention drops to two-thirds of those who support it somewhat, or oppose it.

The GOP "Pledge to America," meanwhile, is showing no traction: just 34 percent of Americans say they've heard about it, and among those who have, 29 percent say it makes them less apt to support Republican candidates, vs. 23 percent more likely. The rest say it'll make no difference.

More likely voters have heard of the pledge, 46 percent. But they only divide evenly on whether it's a positive or negative motivator.

TURNOUT -- What is working for the Republicans, above all, is a motivated base. Among all registered voters the Democrats lead in congressional vote preference, 47-43 percent. That switches to a Republican advantage among likely voters because of GOP supporters' greater propensity to say they'll turn out. Seventy-seven percent of Republican registered voters say they're absolutely certain to vote. Among Democratic registered voters that falls to 61 percent.

In another sign of their increased motivation, three-quarters of Republicans (74 percent) call this election more important than other congressional elections in their lifetimes; in 2006, just 49 percent said so -- a vast change. (Two-thirds of Democrats and independents alike also express this view -- unchanged among Democrats, but up markedly among independents vs. 2006.)

The Republicans' advantage is not assured, however, in part because it relies on their 20-point advantage among independents -- and while that's the quintessential swing-voting group, it's also one whose turnout is difficult to ensure.

All this ties in with the ABC News Frustration Index, based on views of the economy, the president's job performance, anti-incumbency and dissatisfaction with the way the government's operating. While below its peak, 80 in 2008, at 68 the index is higher now than it was at this time in 1994 (63) or 2006 (62), the last two times control of Congress switched hands. The index, moreover, currently is 70 among likely voters, and 85 among Republicans -- underscoring their motivation to wrest away the "change" mantra that President Obama wielded in 2008.

OBAMA -- Obama, for his part, remains below majority approval, albeit slightly: fifty percent of Americans approve of his job performance, 47 percent disapprove. This had gone negative for him last month for the first time in ABC/Post polls, 46-52 percent.

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