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Democrats gain in poll but GOP still leads as midterm elections near

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Dissatisfaction with Washington politicians remains high, always a warning to the party in power. Approval of Congress stands at 23 percent among all registered voters, not much higher than it was at this time in 1994. Disapproval of congressional Democrats has reached a record high in Post-ABC polling, at 61 percent. But a continuing wild card in this fall's races is that disapproval of congressional Republicans is even higher, at 67 percent.

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Anger about the way the federal government is working is far higher among Republicans (34 percent) and independents (30 percent) than it is among Democrats (12 percent).

Republicans and independents are also far gloomier in their assessment of the economy, and by huge margins they believe the money spent under the federal stimulus program has been mostly wasted. Nine in 10 Republicans and three-quarters of independents say that money has been misspent; far fewer Democrats, just over four in 10, agree.

Health care continues to divide the country, as it has for more than a year, with 47 percent saying they support the changes enacted this year and 48 percent saying they oppose them. Opinions continue to be highly polarized on this issue, with 75 percent of Democrats supporting the changes and 83 percent of Republicans opposed.

A slim majority of independents (53 percent) say they oppose the new law. Most opponents of the new law say they would support an effort to overturn it, either by another vote in Congress or through the courts.

Obama and the Democrats have argued that if Republicans were to gain control of Congress, they would return to the policies of President George W. Bush. Two-thirds of Democrats share that view and say it would be bad for the country. But almost a quarter of Democrats say a GOP-led Congress would take the country in a new and better direction or say a return to Bush's policies would be good.

Republicans overwhelmingly see a positive change in direction if their party wins control of Congress, and almost half of independents agree. About a third of independents say Republicans would reinstitute Bush's policies and view such a move negatively.

Another big wild card this year remains the emergence of the tea party movement.

A third of voters think tea party candidates, if elected this fall, would change the culture of Washington, with most seeing positive shifts.

About 15 percent of voters say they strongly support the tea party; they overwhelmingly favor Republican congressional candidates in the elections.

The telephone poll of 1,002 randomly selected adults was conducted from Sept. 30 to Oct. 3, including interviews with 879 registered voters and 669 likely to cast ballots in the upcoming congressional elections. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for the full sample, and four points for both voter groups.

balzd@washpost.com cohenj@washpost.com

Assistant polling analyst Kyle Dropp and polling consultant Meredith Chaiken contributed to this report.


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