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Washington Post-ABC poll: Public is not yet sold on GOP

Now that the 2010 midterm elections are over, tongues have already started wagging over who the potential Republican presidential candidates may be in 2012.

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Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 15, 2010; 12:00 AM

Republicans may have made major gains in the November elections, but they have yet to win the hearts and minds of the American people, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

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The midterm elections - in which Republicans gained 63 seats to take control of the House and added six seats to their Senate minority - were widely seen as a rebuke to President Obama. Still, the public trusts Obama marginally more than they do congressional Republicans to deal with the country's main problems in the coming years, 43 percent to 38 percent.

The poll suggests that the election, while perhaps a vote against the status quo, was not a broad mandate for Republicans and their plans. The survey also underscores the degree to which Americans are conflicted about who they think is setting the agenda in Washington.

The president's narrow advantage is a striking contrast to the public's mood at this time in 1994 and 2006, the last two midterm election years when one or both chambers of Congress changed hands.

After Democrats won back the House and the Senate four years ago, they had a large, double-digit lead over President George W. Bush when it came to big issues. Similarly, after the GOP's 1994 landslide, people expressed far more confidence in congressional Republicans than they did in President Bill Clinton.

In the new poll, just 41 percent of respondents say the GOP takeover of the House is a "good thing." About 27 percent say it is a "bad thing," and 30 percent say it won't make any difference. Most continue to say that the Republicans in Congress are not doing enough to compromise with Obama on important issues.

At this time in 1994, six in 10 Americans said the GOP had taken a stronger leadership role in Washington, while just one in four said Clinton was firmly in charge. In the new poll, Americans are about evenly split between Obama and the Republicans in Congress on this question.

The public is also divided down the middle when it comes to the top issue: About 45 percent say they trust the GOP when it comes to the economy; 44 percent side with Obama. In the wake of the 1994 elections, Republicans held a sizable, 23-point advantage over Clinton on the economy. The new poll also has even splits between Obama and the GOP on taxes and dealing with the threat of terrorism.

That may be grounds for the kind of negotiations that resulted in the compromise over taxes and unemployment benefits that is now making its way through the lame-duck session of Congress.

A red flag for the GOP

Even as Republicans are determined to fulfill their campaign promises to reduce spending, repeal the new health-care law and in other ways block the president's agenda, the public's ambivalence serves as a warning that the GOP will not have a free hand in the new Congress.

Obama maintains double-digit leads over Republicans in two big areas - helping the middle class and health-care reform. The GOP has a significant edge on only one issue tested in the poll: When it comes to dealing with the federal budget deficit, Republicans in Congress are up eight points.

But while Republicans are more trusted on the issue, Americans believe that the president is more genuine in wanting to reduce the deficit. More than two in three say Obama is sincere in his commitment to deficit reduction, while only a bare majority say the same for congressional Republicans.


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