A double punch of economic and political dissatisfaction marks public attitudes in the closing week of the 2014 midterm campaign – a dynamic that reflects poorly on the president’s performance, bolstering his Republican opponents.
The discontent in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll is palpable. Despite its fitful gains, seven in 10 Americans rate the nation’s economy negatively and just 28 percent say it’s getting better. In a now-customary result, 68 percent say the country’s seriously off on the wrong track.
There’s no respite politically. Six in 10 express little or no trust in the federal government to do what’s right. Fifty-three percent think its ability to deal with the country’s problems has worsened in the last few years; among likely voters that rises to 63 percent.
Views of the president’s performance suffer in kind. Barack Obama’s job approval rating, 43 percent overall, is virtually unchanged from his career-low 40 percent two weeks ago. A steady 51 percent disapprove, essentially the same all year. His ratings on the economy – still the country’s prime concern, albeit one of many – are similarly weak, a 10-point net negative score.
These elements appear poised to depress voting by dispirited Democrats, tipping the scale to customarily higher-turnout Republicans. Disapproval of Obama reaches 56 percent among likely voters, and three in 10 say they’ll show up at the polls to express opposition to him – twice as many as say they’ll vote to show him support.
The result is a 50-44 percent Republican advantage among likely voters in preference for U.S. House seats in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates. That compares with a +3-point Democratic tally among all registered voters, showing how differential turnout shifts the balance.
EXPECTATIONS and DISAFFECTION
Other results may be equally cheering to the GOP. While the unpredictable nature of key Senate races makes it premature to be measuring for drapes in leadership offices, Americans by 13 points, 46-33 percent, expect the Republicans to win control. By nine points, 32-24 percent, more also call a good rather than a bad thing.
Four in 10, though, say who’s in control won’t make much difference – one sign of the more general public annoyance any incoming leaders are likely to face.
Disaffection may impact participation, as well. Just 68 percent of registered voters say they’re closely following the midterms, well down from 76 percent at about this time in 2010 and 80 percent in 2006. The share saying they’re certain to vote (or already voted), 65 percent, likewise is down, from 71 percent in 2010 and 76 percent in 2006. Actual turnout is lower still.
There’s another turn-off for prospective voters: the tone of the midterm campaigns. Americans by 2-1, 50 vs. 26 percent say the candidates in their congressional district have been mainly attacking each other rather than discussing the issues. The remaining quarter has no opinion, suggesting they’ve just tuned it all out.
When not firing salvos, campaigns have been working the phones: About one in four likely voters, 27 percent, say they’ve been personally contacted by an individual or organization working to support a House or Senate candidate. About equal numbers say they’ve been contacted on behalf of Republican vs. Democratic candidates; most by far have been contacted by both. No partisan advantage is apparent, suggesting a stalemate, at least overall, in this element of political trench warfare.
Midterms often are seen as referendums on the president, especially given the customary six-year itch. So it is with Obama: This year on average has been his worst in overall job approval since he took office, and it’s the first year a majority has disapproved.
Among groups, 2014 marks the first year Obama has averaged less-than-majority approval among moderates (48 percent this year so far), as well as approval only in the 30s among independents (37 percent on average). He’s averaged 33 percent approval among whites and 65 percent among nonwhites in 2014 – a vast difference, but both annual lows since he took office.
Obama’s troubles help explain another result – a 42-37 percent edge among likely voters for the Republican Party over the Democrats to handle the country’s main problems. Even among all adults, there’s just a 2-point gap between the parties on this question.
The results in congressional vote preference include notable divisions among groups. While Democratic candidates are a scant +5 among women, that turns to a 17-point Republican lead among men. Republican candidates likewise lead by a hefty 17 points among political independents. And while Democrats are +12 points among moderates, the GOP comes back with a vast 61-point advantage among conservatives, who rival moderates in their share of likely voters.
The Democrats have a typical lead among nonwhites, but they often also look to college-educated white women as key supporters. This year they’re only running evenly in that group, while losing 66 percent of white men and 57 percent of white women who lack a college degree.
Attitudinal groups also mark the GOP advantage. Democratic candidates lead by 71-24 percent among those who say the government’s ability to deal with problems has held steady or improved in recent years – but Republicans have nearly as large an advantage among those who say this has worsened, and there are far more of them. Republican candidates lead broadly, as well, among those who rate economic conditions negatively – again, the predominant group.
For all this, another result points to a lost opportunity for the Democrats. Seventy-one percent of all adults in this survey, and two-thirds of likely voters, think the U.S. economic system favors the wealthy rather than treating most people fairly. And likely voters who see a systemic bias for the wealthy prefer Democratic candidates over Republicans by a 20-point margin.
The tide turns because the minority who thinks the system is fair favors Republican candidates far more broadly – by 47 points, 72-25 percent. It’s an issue on which Democrats may find room to push back – if not this year, then in the presidential election two years off.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Oct. 23-26, 2014, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,204 adults, including 1,032 registered voters and 758 likely voters, including landline and cell-phone-only respondents. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.0, 3.5 and 4.0 points for the general population, registered voters and likely voters, respectively, including the design effect.
Partisan divisions in this survey, Democrats-Republicans-independents, are 32-24-36 percent among the general population, 35-26-33 percent among registered voters and 33-30-31 percent among likely voters.