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

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A gargantuan Republican advantage in the midterm elections subsided to merely a broad one in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, with the Democrats clawing back some support, in tandem with an incipient sense that the economy at last may be turning the corner.

A month before Election Day, 31 percent of Americans say the economy's improving -- far from a majority, but 7 points more than a month ago and among the most since the financial crisis of fall 2008. Dissatisfaction with the federal government, closely related to economic discontent, also has eased by 7 points, albeit to a still-high 71 percent.

It's hardly a sea change: anti-incumbency and disapproval of Congress remain enormous. Republicans still are more charged up; they're 16 points more apt than Democrats to say they're certain to vote next month. And the ABC News Frustration Index, a strong predictor of election outcomes, stands at 68 on its scale of 100, well in the danger zone for incumbent politicians.

In congressional vote preference, likely voters now divide by 49-43 percent for the Republican vs. the Democratic candidate in their district. That's eased from a remarkable 53-40 percent last month, the largest GOP lead since ABC/Post polling began in 1982.

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Still, the Republicans hold a sizable and unusual lead, bigger than they enjoyed at this time in 1994, when they last seized control of Congress. Notable in this poll, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, is the GOP's 20-point advantage among independent likely voters, who favor Republican candidates by 53-33 percent.

Last month's overall 13-point Republican advantage among all likely voters may have been so big as to be unsustainable; nonetheless, their move off that peak puts the Democrats back in the game -- or at least within sight of the ballpark -- for what's sure to be a frenetic last month of campaigning -- and, especially, of get-out-the vote machinations.

ECONOMY -- The gain in economic expectations makes things a little less ugly for the Democrats because likely voters who say the economy is improving favor Democrats for Congress by 75-19 percent; those who say it's getting worse favor Republican candidates by 70-22 percent. In this poll there are 7 points more of the former (the better group for Democrats), and 6 points fewer of the latter (the better group for Republicans) than last month. Those who say the economy is staying the same, however, also favor GOP candidates, by 52-39 percent.

And the same is not good; ratings of current economic conditions have not improved. Ninety percent say the economy is in bad shape (it was 92 percent last month). That vastly negative rating helps explain why the Obama administration's economic stimulus gets so little applause: By more than 2-1, 68 percent to 29 percent, Americans are far more apt to say that money was wasted rather than well-spent.

It appears an improving economy would help this view. Among people who think the economy's getting better, 56 percent say the stimulus money was well-spent. But among those who think it's staying the same or getting worse, many more -- 73 and 89 percent, respectively -- think all that stimulus spending was mostly wasted.

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