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

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By Dan Balz and Jon Cohen Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, October 5, 2010; 12:05 AM

Less than a month before the midterm elections, the political landscape remains strongly tilted toward Republicans, although Democrats have made modest improvements with voters since their late-summer low point, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

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Democrats have cut in half the GOP's early-September advantage on the question of which party's candidates voters say they will support on Nov. 2. They have also made small gains on the question of which party people trust to handle big issues, such as the economy and health care.

Voters give Democrats a significant edge as the party that would do a better job in helping the middle class, which has been a key campaign message from the White House in recent weeks.

President Obama's approval rating has rebounded to where it was in July after hitting an all-time low a month ago. Also, in some state races, Democratic candidates have taken the lead over their Republican opponents or narrowed GOP advantages.

Despite these apparent signs of improvement, the new Post-ABC poll suggests that Democrats remain at a significant disadvantage. Their hopes of holding down losses depend more on the performance of individual candidates than on dramatic changes in the overall climate.

The poll underscores how much support Democrats have lost among voters since 2006, the year the party recaptured control of Congress.

Among likely voters, Republicans hold a six-point edge, 49 percent to 43 percent, on the congressional ballot. At this time four years ago, Democrats led by 12 points. Then, Democrats also held a 19-point advantage when voters were asked which party they trusted to deal with the country's main problems.

Today, the public is almost evenly divided on that question, nearly matching public sentiment in October 1994, the last time Republicans won both the House and the Senate.

Looking toward Nov. 2, Republicans still hold two significant advantages. The poll shows that Republicans are paying closer attention to the elections than are Democrats. Nearly three-quarters of Republicans call the 2010 elections more important to the country than others in their lifetime.

A similar proportion of Republicans say it would be a "good thing" if the GOP won back control of Congress; only about half of Democrats see that potential result as a "bad thing."

Democrats were far more likely than Republicans to say they would back their incumbent House representative next month (40 percent to 26 percent). Independents are the most anti-incumbent, with just 23 percent saying they were inclined to vote to reelect their representative.

Meanwhile, independents continue to lean heavily toward the GOP in their voting intentions, a sharp change from both 2006 and 2008. Among independent voters most likely to cast ballots this year, 53 percent say they favor the Republican in their district, compared with 33 percent who favor the Democratic candidate.


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