Poll: Voters sour on Congress; country’s direction makes them wince

New York Water Taxi vessels cruise between the South Street Seaport and Pier 83 at West 42nd Street, Manhattan, passing the Statue of Liberty on the way. (Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times/MCT)
New York Water Taxi vessels cruise between the South Street Seaport and Pier 83 at West 42nd Street, Manhattan, passing the Statue of Liberty on the way. (Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times/MCT) MCT

Most Americans view the country moving in the wrong direction and don’t see their financial futures getting better anytime soon, attitudes likely to make it harder for Democrats to do well this fall, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll.

Sixty-one percent see the nation on the wrong track, down from 64 percent in August but still historically high.

A big reason for the anxiety: Only 30 percent expect their personal family finances to improve in the coming year, down from 35 percent in February. Fifty-four percent see their finances staying about the same.

People want their elected officials to make things better but don’t see much progress, so they give lawmakers low marks.

“It has to do with paying bills and economic security at a personal level,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in New York, which conducted the Sept. 24-29 poll.

The economic recovery, he said, “still hasn’t reached folks the way the macrodata suggest.”

The wrong direction/right track number is considered a key barometer of voter sentiment, and people strongly disapprove of how their elected officials are performing. Seventy-one percent of registered voters disliked how Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, are governing, while 61 percent felt the same about Democrats, who control the Senate.

President Barack Obama, whose job approval rating jumped to 46 percent last month thanks largely to his handling of the terrorism crisis, still got low marks from voters. Fifty-seven percent disapproved of his handling of the economy, and 41 percent said he was more likely to make them vote Republican, while 38 percent said they’d vote Democratic.

Since Democrats control the White House and Senate, and virtually all of the most vulnerable Senate seats are now in Democratic hands, the party stands to be hurt by the current mood.

“The political environment is bad, but more so for the Democrats, since they occupy the White House,” said Miringoff.

Republicans currently have a 233-199 majority in the House. Independent analysts predict the party will gain two to 10 seats.

In the Senate, Republicans need a net gain of six seats to win control, and their prospects are brightening slightly. In a new analysis Thursday, Larry Sabato and Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics saw a Republican trend.

“So many undecided contests are winnable for the GOP that the party would have to have a string of bad luck – combined with a truly exceptional Democratic get-out-the-vote program – to snatch defeat from the wide-open jaws of victory,” they found. “Or Republicans would have to truly shoot themselves in the foot in at least one race, which has become a clear possibility over the last few weeks in Kansas.”

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., faces a tough challenge from independent Greg Orman. A Suffolk University/USA Today poll Saturday through Tuesday put Orman ahead, 46 percent to 41 percent.

The problem facing Roberts, as well as other officeholders, is that voters – most notably, independents who could decide races – have soured on incumbents.

Two-thirds of independent voters disapprove of how Obama is handling the economy, and 53 percent have an unfavorable impression of the president. Most ominous for Democrats: Forty-one percent of independents say that impression makes them more likely to vote for a Republican for Congress, while 25 percent said it would swing them Democratic.

There’s some solace for Democrats: While 28 percent of registered voters say Obama is a major factor in deciding their vote, the number drops to 22 percent among independents. Most people say the president is not a big factor.

And two of three independents disapprove of the job Republicans as well as Democrats are doing in Congress.

Overall, voters split as to whether they’d pick a Democrat or a Republican in their congressional district. That number can be misleading, since congressional races are decided on a district-by-district, state-by-state basis. They’re also often decided by swing voters, and independents prefer Republicans 43 percent to 35 percent.

The telephone survey polled 1,052 adults, including 884 registered voters. The poll has an overall margin of error of 3 percentage points. The margin is 3.3 percentage points among registered voters.

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