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

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Ideological ratings show a shortfall on all sides. Fewer than half of Americans think candidates of either major party, or the Tea Party, are about right ideologically. Forty-eight percent call the Democrats either too liberal or two conservative (38 percent and 10 percent, respectively). Fifty-three percent call the Republicans either too conservative or too liberal (35 and 18 percent). And the Tea Party stacks up similarly to the GOP.

THE BIG ONES -- At the end, on the national level, two key factors are driving this election. One is the economy's perceived direction. The other, motivation among Republicans to make the contest a thumbs-down referendum on the Obama administration more broadly.

While voter preferences now are less bad for the Democrats than they were a month ago, a sharp and highly unusual difference between likely voters vs. all registered voters remains, and continues to work powerfully for the GOP. Whether the party peaked too early is the question that will be answered in a month.

METHODOLOGY -- This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Sept. 30-Oct. 3, 2010, among a random national sample of 1,002 adults, including landline and cell-phone-only respondents. Results for the full sample have a 3.5-point error margin. Click here for a detailed description of sampling error. This survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y, with sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

ABC News polls can be found at ABCNEWS.com at http://abcnews.com/pollingunit

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