Nov. 6, 2005 — -- A year out from the 2006 midterm elections, the Democrats hold an extraordinary lead in voter preferences -- but far less of an advantage in the practical elements it can take to turn an out-party's hopes into votes: leadership, anti-incumbency and a unified theme.
Opportunity is there for the Democrats: Capitalizing on George W. Bush's troubles, the party has a 12-point advantage over the Republicans in trust to handle the nation's main problems, and it leads in nine of 10 individual issues, with some huge gains from three years ago. In the 10th -- Bush's trademark, handling terrorism -- the Democrats run even.
Indeed, 55 percent of Americans in this ABC News/Washington Post poll say they'd like to see the Democrats take control of Congress in 2006. And if the election were today, registered voters would favor the Democrat in their congressional district by 52 percent to 37 percent.
That 15-point margin is numerically the biggest for the Democrats since an ABC/Post poll in September 1984 (they ultimately lost 14 seats), although about the same as a 14-point Democratic lead in one poll in 1996 (when they gained nine).
The Democrats' advantage on issues extends to some surprising areas -- Iraq and the economy, for example -- and show striking gains from late 2002.
So does their edge in attributes: They hold a 10-point lead, 50 percent to 40 percent, as the party that "better represents your personal values."
But a year can be a millennium in political terms, and midterm elections are far more complicated than a single popularity contest. With incumbent re-election rates usually over 90 percent, it takes a nationalized congressional election --