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

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Nonetheless strength of sentiment is still against the president, with 34 percent strongly disapproving of his work overall, vs. 26 percent who strongly approve. Among likely voters, moreover, his approval rating worsens to 45-53 percent. And on the economy, 53 percent of all Americans disapprove, as do 58 percent of likely voters.

IRE AWAY -- If other examples of the public's ire are required, they're here in abundance. Consider:

    A mere 24 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress is handling its job, while 73 percent disapprove. That's 7 points from the lowest congressional approval ever measured in ABC/Post polls, in spring 1992. Sixty-one percent disapprove, specifically, of the way the Democrats in Congress are performing -- and 67 percent disapprove of the Republicans there.

    Fifty-one percent approve of their own Congress member's performance, well below the average, 61 percent, in ABC/Post polls since 1989, and near the lows -- 47 percent in 1992, 49 percent in 1994 and again last month. And it's not a saving grace: only 31 percent of registered voters are inclined to re-elect their representative, up 5 points from its low in July but still a very weak reading. Fifty-five percent are inclined, instead, to look around for someone else. It's the same among likely voters.

    While dissatisfaction with the government has eased to 71 percent, that's still very high -- essentially the same as at this point in 1994. (The top was 81 percent in 1992, just before then-President George Bush lost re-election in a firestorm of economic unhappiness.) And 25 percent are downright angry with the government, unchanged from last month and matching the high, again set in fall 1992.

ISSUES and CHANGE -- The GOP is numerically ahead among likely voters in trust to handle most key issues, and clearly leads on three -- taxes, the deficit and the main problems the nation faces. (The Democrats lead in one, trust to protect the middle class -- but they also did in fall 1994, and lost Congress nonetheless.) More broadly, the GOP holds a sizable advantage among likely voters in views of which party has the best ideas on the right size and role of government -- 51 percent to 37 percent -- a fruitful argument for the Republicans.

Another issue finds the public typically divided: a 47-48 percent split (support-oppose) on health care reform, with sharp partisanship. (Among opponents of reform, three-quarters would like to see the law canceled, either in Congress or the courts.) But this is another issue on which likely voters are different: They oppose the reform legislation by 55-42 percent.

In a sign of openness to change, Americans by 38-27 percent say it would be a good thing rather than a bad thing if the GOP took control of Congress -- and among likely voters, that widens to a 46-29 percent margin. Meanwhile there's pushback on the Democrats' warnings of a return to the unpopular days of George W. Bush: overall the public by 49-42 percent thinks a Republican-led Congress would take the country in a new direction, rather than returning to Bush's policies. (On this, the result is similar among likely voters, 53-41 percent.)

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