2010 Elections: Republicans are in the Hunt

The Republican Party has grown dramatically more competitive in public trust to handle the country's most pressing issues, capitalizing on seething economic discontent and doubt about President Obama's performance to challenge the Democrats in midterm election preferences.

Among registered voters in this ABC News/Washington Post poll, 48 percent say they'd support the Republican candidate in their congressional district if the midterm elections were today, 45 percent the Democrat. That's a rare level of GOP support in nearly three decades of polls.

Click here for a PDF with charts and questionnaire.

Other measures also have tightened sharply since fall. Among all Americans, the Democrats' lead in trust to handle the country's main problems has dwindled to a slim 6 points, 43-37 percent, down from 33 points – a record in a generation of polls – after Barack Obama's election.

Disapproval of Congress, at 71 percent, matches its highest since 1994, when the GOP swept to control in a midterm rout of the Democrats. Americans by a 20-point margin say they're inclined to look around for someone new to support for Congress. And by a 13-point margin, 48 to 35 percent, Americans call themselves anti-incumbent rather than pro-incumbent – not quite the levels in 1994 or 2006 (when the Democrats regained control) but broad nonetheless.

Economy Drives Anti-Incumbent Sentiment

A main mover in these sentiments is the public's longstanding economic discontent. Eighty-eight percent say the recession is not over. More than half don't think the economy's even begun to recover, and most of them don't think it'll start improving for more than a year. Among those who do say a recovery has begun, three-quarters say it's a weak one.

Negative economic views are closely associated with anti-incumbency and a preference for Republican candidates alike. With 9.7 percent unemployment, Obama and the Democrats are rediscovering the maxim that in politics, absent an unpopular war, there's nothing as bad for the party in power as a bad economy.

OBAMA – The president himself is down to scant 5-point leads over the Republicans in Congress in trust to handle the economy, health care reform and the threat of terrorism – down, respectively, from 37-, 28- and 21-point advantages on these issues in the spring and summer. His lead on the economy, now near naught, had been a record in ABC/Post polls since 1991.

The president and the opposition party score about evenly, 45-43 percent, in trust to handle the deficit, an especially weak issue for Obama. He does slightly better, but hardly well, in trust to create jobs, an issue he's newly (critics would say belatedly) stressed – a 7-point advantage over the Republicans, but below majority preference, 48 to 41 percent.

Obama's Job Approval Rating Marked By Shift Among Independents

Obama's job approval rating overall is just 51 percent, essentially flat since December; 46 percent disapprove. Among independents, the keystone of national politics, 46 percent approve of Obama's work overall – and 49 percent disapprove. The shift among independents shows as well in their trust to handle top issues – away from Obama, and toward the Republicans in Congress.

The president's rated negatively for his handling of four out of five individual issues tested in this poll: the deficit (56 percent disapprove), health care and the economy (53 percent apiece) and creating jobs (51 percent). His only positive is for handling terrorism.

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