WASHINGTON — According to a bipartisan poll released Wednesday, President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party may be putting themselves in political jeopardy with their expensive and ambitious agenda, which has yet to show benefits for the country.
"There are warning signs for Democrats heading into 2010," Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said. "Despite trusting and supporting the Democratic agenda, majorities think the administration is spending too much and doing too many things."
Republican pollster Ed Goeas, who conducted the Battleground Poll with Lake for George Washington University, said it showed signs of a shifting landscape that could help Republicans start rebounding from back-to-back election losses in 2006 and 2008, when they lost control of Congress and the White House.
"It's a lot more fun on the way up than it is on the way down, and we're already starting to see signs of that," Goeas said. "The demise of the Republican Party has been overanalyzed and overestimated."
The bipartisan Battleground Poll, which surveyed 1,007 registered likely voters nationwide July 19-23, has an error margin of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
Overall, Obama and the Democrats still have popular support.
The survey found that 53 percent of likely voters approve of the way that Obama is doing his job. It also found that the president and congressional Democrats had an advantage over Republicans on such issues and characteristics as health care, energy independence, honesty and middle class values.
"Obama continues to be very strong as a personal brand. Voters still like him," Lake said at a breakfast with reporters.
Yet he's facing public skepticism about his agenda, and potential problems with the key voting bloc of independents.
A solid majority of 61 percent, for example, said that Obama was spending too much money. A similar majority of 63 percent said he was trying to do too many things at once.
Skepticism was rampant among Republicans but also evident among independents.
Among independents, the poll found Obama's job approval dropping to 42 percent and his disapproval rising to 50 percent. Of that 50 percent who disapprove, the vast majority disapprove strongly, the poll found.
Independents also were much more likely than Democrats to say that Obama is spending too much money — 76 percent of independents said that — and is trying to do too much — 68 percent of independents.
Independents supported having government power divided between the major political parties by 53 percent to 29 percent, rivaling Republicans and potentially signaling dissatisfaction with Democratic control of the White House, the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Looking ahead to 2010 — when the entire 435-member House and one-third of the Senate are up for election — Goeas and Lake said that Republicans as of now had more intensity, a passion that could turn into an edge in getting their voters to turn out.
The poll found 75 percent of Republicans saying that they definitely will vote, a clear edge over the 66 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of independents who say they will.
"Part of what has to be troubling to Democrats is the issue of turnout," Lake said. "Republicans, while generally more divided on issues and perceptions, are more enthusiastic about the election than Democrats and are more likely to vote."
Goeas noted two other challenges for the Democrats: Voting by young people, a big source of votes for Democrats in 2008, usually drops by 5 percentage points in a midterm election, and voting by older voters, historically more Republican, rises by the same amount.
Lake, the Democratic pollster, said that there was plenty of time for the Democrats to turn things around. While only one in three voters said that the $787 billion economic-stimulus plan was working, 58 percent said it was "on track" and that it should be given a year to work.
Lake also said that 57 percent of voters thought that former President George W. Bush had made today's economic woes worse.
"The key is to prepare for a blame election," she said. "It's very important to draw the contrast between what we've tried to do and how the Republicans have tried to hold on to the failed Bush policies."
Goeas said there was an "expiration date" on blaming Bush. "The Bush thing will begin to fade more and more and more," he said. "Especially if Republicans don't try to defend Bush and just move into the future."
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