Reporting from Washington — Anger among independent voters about the economy and the direction the nation is taking offer Republicans a significant opportunity to reclaim power in the 2010 midterm congressional elections, according to the results of the bipartisan Battleground Poll released today.
A lack of passion among President Obama's core supporters and an absence of confidence that the administration's policies and congressional spending are producing sorely needed new jobs also pose a serious challenge to the president's party in 2010.
Those are among the findings of a long-established team of Republican and Democratic pollsters, sponsored by George Washington University, which has measured the president's public job-approval rating at a low point for any first-year president in December.
"What a difference a year makes," said Christopher Arterton, dean of the graduate school of political management at GWU.
The president's job-approval rating has slipped to 49%, Republican pollster Ed Goeas and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake say. And the percentage of people who strongly disapprove of the president's performance, 41%, outweighs the 37% who strongly approve.
Disapproval of the job that Congress is doing has risen to 68%, "an all-time high," and 77% among independent voters.
The problem for the president's party, the pollsters say, is that the most passionate supporters of the Democratic president appear less likely to turn out to vote in congressional elections next year. And the most angry of the independent voters -- a swing-voting bloc that supported Obama in 2008 -- appear heavily motivated to vote against Democrats.
"There is a potential for this being the 1994 of the angry white male," said Goeas, pointing to the pivotal year during President Clinton's first term when Republicans gained control of the House.
Because of a struggling economy with widespread job losses, Goeas said, "the pool of angry independents is larger than what you normally see in an off-year election year. It is certainly something that is going to be problematic for the Democrats. . . .
"I've come to the conclusion on independents . . . that what really drives them is, they dislike both parties, and they dislike the party in power more," said Goeas, a seasoned Republican pollster at the Tarrance Group, speaking at a breakfast with reporters to present the findings of the newest Battleground Poll. The poll, conducted Dec. 6 to 9, surveyed 1,000 registered voters. It carries a possible margin of error of plus or minus 3.1%
The challenge for Obama's party, the pollsters say, is presenting policies during the first few months of 2010 that clearly offer the promise of new jobs in an economy in which unemployment has reached 10%.
"It's still the economy," Lake said. "If you ask people how they are feeling about the economy, people are very anxious. . . .
"The one most important thing is that Democrats still are winning the vote among people who are most concerned about the economy," said Lake, longtime Democratic pollster at Lake Research Partners. "The No. 1 thing the Democrats have to do is prove they really have a jobs program and an economic program that is going to sell on Main Street."
The economy and jobs rank as the most important issue that Congress should work on among 40% of those surveyed. The cost of healthcare ranks as the top issue among just 15%.
The survey also reveals a "disconnect" between what most voters would like to see in healthcare -- controlling the cost of medical care -- and what they view as the president's priority: insuring the uninsured.
"Only 28% said their priorities match Obama's priorities, and 64% said they do not," Goeas said. "There's a disconnect."
Most voters surveyed, 56%, say the country is on the wrong track, with 34% seeing the nation going in the right direction.
In a "generic" contest between an unnamed Democratic candidate and an unnamed Republican candidate for Congress, 42% of those surveyed said they would support the Republican; 40% opted for the Democrat.
Among those swing-voting independents: 40% said they would select the Republican; 19%, the Democrat.
The voters most likely to support Republican candidates for Congress are more likely to vote next year, according to the survey.
More than three-quarters of Republicans and independents surveyed said they were extremely likely to vote, with fewer than two-thirds of Democrats extremely likely to vote, including 58% of African American voters surveyed.
The Democratic Party's problem is twofold, Lake said: "the intensity of the anger among the independents and the lack of intensity among the 'Obama surge' voters" who helped elect the president.
Although Obama remains personally popular, the poll shows, his policies have proved less so.