Republican victories in the midterm elections have translated into an immediate boost in the party’s image, putting the GOP at its highest point in eight years, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The spike in the party’s standing comes after Republicans picked up nine seats to take control of the Senate, raised their numbers in the House to the highest level in more than half a century and added new governorships to its already clear majority.
In the new poll, 47 percent say they have a favorable impression of the Republican Party, compared with 33 percent in the month before the midterm elections. An equal percentage have an unfavorable view, which marks the first time in six years that fewer than half of Americans said they saw Republicans negatively.
The improved standing reverses a lengthy period in which the public had given Republicans declining and, ultimately, historically low ratings. Successful elections often give political parties or candidates a boost, though sometimes those improved ratings prove to be a bounce rather than a sustained change.
Public impressions of the Democrats are now a bit worse than those of the Republicans and overall more negative than positive. More people gave the Democrats favorable ratings than they did just before the midterm elections — 44 percent compared with 39 percent. But the percentage of those rating the Democrats negatively was essentially unchanged at 50 percent, compared with 51 percent earlier.
In surveys dating back three decades, Democrats were always rated more positively than negatively until late last year, at the time of the botched rollout of HealthCare.gov, the Web site for enrolling in the Affordable Care Act. But it was only this fall that at least 50 percent gave them an unfavorable rating.
Democrats are also weakened by a six-point drop in party identification since October, from 32 to 26 percent, with a corresponding five-point rise in the share identifying as independents. There was little shift among Republicans. Losing parties in midterm elections have generally seen a downward shift in identification immediately afterward.
The elections left President Obama in roughly the same position he has been in throughout the year. His approval rating stands at 41 percent, ticking down from 43 percent in late October, while his disapproval has risen from 51 percent to 54 percent in the new survey. Forty-one percent of all Americans say they strongly disapprove of the way he is doing his job.
Obama’s ratings on the economy closely approximate his overall standing, with 44 percent giving him positive marks and 52 percent offering a negative view. A majority also disapproves of his handling of international affairs. On dealing with terrorism, 48 percent say they disapprove, compared with 43 percent who approve.
The president appears to be getting little benefit from the improving economy. In the new survey, a majority of Americans say they are optimistic about the state of the economy and almost 7 in 10 say they are optimistic about their own family’s finances.
The decline in oil and gasoline prices has buoyed the finances of some families, according to the poll. About 4 in 10 say it has helped their financial situation a good amount or more, while nearly 6 in 10 say it has helped just some or very little.
On immigration, just 38 percent approve of the job Obama is doing, although that is nine points higher than it was two months ago. Fifty-five percent disapprove, down six points in two months.
Attitudes about the president’s executive action shielding millions of undocumented immigrants from the threat of deportation offer a conflicting picture. A bare majority (52 percent) said it supports the president’s action, with about a third of the country strongly supporting it.
At the same time, a bare majority (51 percent) say lack of action by Congress on immigration — the pretext for Obama’s decision to move unilaterally — is not a good-enough reason to do what he did. And with some Republicans charging that Obama’s action was unconstitutional, the country is close to evenly split, with 47 percent saying he acted within his authority and 49 percent saying he went beyond it.
There is a similar split on the question of whether Congress should try to block the changes, as some Republicans have advocated. On this question, 47 percent say Congress should try to prevent implementation of the action, while 49 percent say Congress should let it go forward.
On the broader questions about the policy and how Congress should respond, a quarter of Republicans say they support Obama’s move and that they prefer that Congress let it go forward.
On the questions about whether Obama exceeded his authority and whether blaming congressional inaction was a sufficient reason to act, Republicans are more united. Roughly 8 in 10 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say the president exceeded his authority and that blaming Congress for not acting was not a good-enough reason for acting on his own.
The midterm elections also resulted in a shift in perceptions of who is more trusted to deal with the nation’s biggest problems. Americans narrowly see the GOP as more trusted, a shift the since summer, when Obama had the advantage.
Republicans have a nine-point advantage over Obama on who they trust to handle the economy and hold the same margin on handling immigration issues.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted by telephone Thursday through Sunday among a random national sample of 1,000 adults. The poll had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.
Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.