WASHINGTON — All signs point to huge Republican victories in two weeks, with the GOP now leading Democrats on virtually every measure in an Associated Press-GfK poll of people likely to vote in the first major elections of Barack Obama’s presidency.
In the final survey before Election Day, likely voters say the GOP would do a better job than Democrats on handling the economy, creating jobs and running the government.
Most also think the country’s headed in the wrong direction. More than half disapprove of Obama’s job performance. And even more don’t like the Democratic-controlled Congress.
Neither party is popular. But likely voters view the GOP a bit more positively than they do the Democrats. Slightly more say they will vote for the Republican congressional candidate in their district over the Democrat. And most think the GOP will win control of Congress from the Democrats.
“If we get some new blood in there who will do what the people want, maybe this can get turned around,” said Sharon Klawender, 70, who lives in rural Kingston in Michigan, one of the most economically troubled states. She hopes Republicans will “get things back under control.”
Like many others, Klawender bemoans outrageous spending in Washington and dismisses “stupid projects” paid for by Obama’s economic stimulus plan. “Jobs are important,” she says. “Houses left and right are being foreclosed.”
Time is running out for the White House and Obama’s Democrats to change the collective mind of a woefully pessimistic electorate trying to weather joblessness stuck near 10 percent. Many states already are voting.
Republicans are on the cusp of gains at all levels of government, benefiting from being in the minority during a campaign shaped by economic turmoil. Even Democrats acknowledge that the GOP is within reach of winning control of the House, picking up several Senate seats and taking over governor’s posts across the ailing Midwest and elsewhere.
The results could have enormous consequences for Obama’s agenda and will shape his likely re-election campaign in 2012.
Today, it’s an understatement to say the electorate’s mood is simply grim.
Likely voters almost universally say they are frustrated and disappointed with politics. Most say they are disgusted; more than half call themselves angry. Republicans stand to benefit; the GOP comfortably leads among likely voters who feel this way.
“We went on a spending spree that took the debt of this country to levels that are just mind-boggling,” says Ray Esposito, a 70-year-old military veteran from Alpine, Texas, who is wary of Republicans but even more down on Democrats. “All they’ve done is spend, spend, spend.”
He adds: “What I see scares me.”
Incumbents are a big target of voters’ ire, and that means Democrats who control the House and Senate are more likely to be punished than out-of-power Republicans.
“They seem to have a better format. They seem to be getting more to the point. There’s not as much trash talk,” Terri Thebeau, a 54-year-old medical manager from St. Louis, says of the Republicans. She doubts Obama’s ability to pull the nation out of recession, saying: “I don’t see him as a strong enough candidate to get us out of this mess.”
In another worrisome sign for Democrats, women now split pretty evenly between the two parties, 49 percent favoring Democrats, 45 percent Republicans. In 2006, Democrats took over Capitol Hill in part by winning 55 percent of the female vote to 43 percent for Republicans.
Thus, women are a key constituency as Democrats look to try to minimize expected losses. Obama is holding events aimed at courting them in the final homestretch, and Democratic candidates are making overtures to them across the country.
Men, who typically break for Republicans, broadly favor the GOP this year, too.
The survey’s key findings among likely voters show:
Republicans get higher marks with likely voters than Democrats on handling the economy, taxes, the deficit, job creation, immigration and national security, and on managing the federal government. Likely voters are evenly split on which party would best handle health care and Social Security.
With the economy dominating this campaign, roughly half of likely voters are confident that Republicans will bring about changes necessary to o improve things should they win control of the House or Senate, or both. Still, only 10 percent are “very confident.”
Democrats have struggled to find a winning message in such tough economic times. This could explain why: Just a third of likely voters think the massive economic stimulus package — designed by Obama and his Democrats — has improved the economy.
They’re just as down on other parts of the president’s agenda as well, with a majority of likely voters opposing his remake of the country’s health care system. They are divided over whether to change the law to expand it or repeal it entirely.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted October 13-18 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,501 adults nationwide, including 846 adults classified as likely to vote in the November congressional elections. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points for all adults, 4.4 percentage points for likely voters.