iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Anti-incumbent sentiment has reached a 25-year high in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, with economic frustration damaging Barack Obama’s Democrats while the Republican Party labors under a broad view that it’s out of touch with the concerns of most Americans.
The Republicans run evenly with the Democrats in congressional vote preference among registered voters, historically a strong position for the GOP given its advantage in midterm turnout. Perhaps more important, with control of the U.S. Senate at stake, the Republicans have a 50-42 percent advantage for Senate seats in the 34 states holding those contests.
That said, the Tea Party is a substantial risk factor for the Republicans, the Democrats have gained back some ground since January on key issues — and the public’s double-barreled discontent poses deep uncertainty for both political parties at this stage of the midterm contest.
TOSS ‘EM? – Just 22 percent of Americans are inclined to re-elect their representative in Congress, the fewest since ABC/Post polls first asked the question in 1989. Instead this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds that 68 percent say they’re ready to look around for someone new. That’s 14 percentage points more than average, and while anti-incumbency has been close before — 66 percent last October — it’s never been quite this high.
Anti-incumbent sentiment is largely economic in nature; as such, while there’s dissatisfaction with both parties, it’s pointed more at the Democrats, given their control of the big chair at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Pro-incumbents favor the Democrat in their congressional district by a 14-point margin. Anti-incumbents favor the Republicans, by 8.
Most damaging to the Democrats is that 72 percent of Americans still rate the economy negatively, more than five years into Obama’s stewardship. While that’s sharply down from its peak, 94 percent, as he took office, it’s still a broad majority. Moreover, while 56 percent say the economy has begun to improve, that view has lost steam — and among those who do see a recovery, two-thirds say it’s a weak one.
Obama’s own job performance rating is flat, at a below-majority 46 percent approval, unchanged from late January and only slightly above his career-low 42 percent in November. Fifty percent disapprove, and “strong” disapproval of the president exceeds his strong approval by 13 points, although that’s eased from 18- and 22-point gaps from November through January.
GOP – These views might be more damaging to the Democrats were it not for the GOP’s own problems. Sixty-eight percent of Americans see the Republican Party as “out of touch” with the concerns of most people in this country, far more than say the same about Obama (49 percent) or the Democratic Party (48 percent) — weak ratings in their own right. These are essentially unchanged in the past year.
Further, while the parties are evenly rated in trust to handle several key issues, the Democrats have gained ground on some, and there is none on which the Republicans clearly lead. In one important shortfall, the Republican Party trails the Democrats by 13 points in trust to help the middle class.
In a specific land mine for the Republicans, Americans by a vast 31 points, 50 vs. 19 percent, say they’re more likely rather than less likely to vote for a candidate who supports raising the minimum wage. That gives the Democrats some potential pushback against the GOP’s economic argument.
Then there’s the Tea Party movement, five years after it got rolling. While 40 percent of Americans support the Tea Party overall, just 8 percent call themselves strong supporters, numerically a new low (albeit by a single point) and half of what it was three years ago. More important, Americans by a 20-point margin say they’re less likely rather than more likely to vote for a candidate who supports the Tea Party, 36 vs. 16 percent.
There are intra-party issues as well. While 41 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents call it a good thing for Tea Party candidates to challenge Republican incumbents; 47 percent call it a bad thing. There’s an ideological schism here: Sixty-one percent of “very” conservative Republicans see Tea Party challenges as a good thing. That falls steeply to 38 percent of “somewhat” conservatives and 27 percent of moderate Republicans.
ON THE ISSUES – Head-to-head tests on top issues show some improvement for the Democrats, though not enough to change the bottom line of vote preferences. In January the Republicans had a 7-point lead in trust to handle the economy; today it’s a dead even 41-41 percent. The Democrats also have gone from a 10-point shortfall to a non-significant 2 points in trust to handle the deficit, and to an 8-point advantage on immigration, vs. 2 points in January.
Despite the controversy over Obamacare — and the president’s poor rating for handling its rollout — the Democrats are maintaining an edge, now 8 points, in trust to handle health care. They have the same advantage in trust on energy policy and they’re even with the Republicans on taxes.
Running competitively on taxes and the deficit should bode well for the Democrats. But they’re pulled back, as noted, by economic unhappiness and Obama’s tepid ratings. (Beyond his overall 46 percent approval, majorities disapprove of his handling of economy and Obamacare, 54 and 57 percent, respectively. The president has about an even split on handling international affairs in this poll, completed Sunday night as conflict was brewing in Ukraine.)
ISSUES and VOTES – For election purposes, what matters is not just comparative trust on the issues but which positions actually motivate voters. As noted, a candidate’s support for raising the minimum wage is a strong positive in these results, and his or her supporting the Tea Party is a substantial negative.
The federal health care law, for all the sound and fury, is looking like more of a wash: Thirty-six percent say they’d be less likely to vote for a candidate who favors the law, but essentially as many, 34 percent, …read moreRead More →