WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican and Democratic candidates alike had to overcome voters’ displeasure with their party leaders Tuesday as glum Americans expressed little faith that either side could get the U.S. back on course.
More than a third of those who voted for a Republican House candidate were dissatisfied or angry with GOP leaders in Congress, according to preliminary exit polls. A quarter of Democratic voters were similarly upset with President Barack Obama.
“I feel we need a change in Washington, somehow, someway,” said Jodi Beauchene, 44, a food merchandiser in Fargo, North Dakota, who turned to the Libertarian congressional candidate because she’s fed up with both parties.
Voters’ biggest concern is still the economy, the surveys of people leaving polling places showed, six years after the 2008 financial crisis helped propel Obama to his first term in office. Although Obama’s name wasn’t on the ballot this time, some Republican candidates stood to gain from voters’ dissatisfaction with his leadership.
Most said the economy is stagnating or getting worse under Obama’s watch, and those people largely voted Republican. Just 1 in 5 say they trust the government to do what is right most or all of the time, slightly fewer than in the 1994 midterms, when Republicans seized control of the House and Senate, which was the last time the exit poll asked that question.
Becky Stoddard of Anderson County, Kentucky, said she voted to re-elect Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell because of her dismay at Obama’s presidency.
“He’s brought the country down more than he’s built it up,” Stoddard, 57, said of Obama.
What’s on voters’ minds:
ISSUES CUT BOTH WAYS
Preliminary poll results show voters embracing some Republican ideas. Just over half think the government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals. About two-thirds feel the nation is seriously off on the wrong track — slightly more than thought that when Republicans won back control of the House in 2010.
On many issues overshadowed by the economy, however, most voters take positions that align more with the Democratic Party.
A majority favor offering immigrants who are in the country illegally a way to stay. A little more than half think abortion ought to be legal in most cases, and most of the voters consider climate change a serious problem.
Nearly two-thirds think the U.S. economic system favors the wealthy, a common theme among Democratic candidates.
Health care complaints came from both sides. People who said health care is their top issue were about as likely to say Obama’s overhaul didn’t go far enough as to say it went too far. Overall, those people tended to vote Democratic.
People who said either immigration or foreign policy was their top issue tended to vote Republican.
THE HEADLINE FACTOR
Two issues that have dominated headlines and unsettled Americans — the Ebola virus and the Islamic State militant group — looked like a wash.
About half of voters disapproved of the federal government’s response to the arrival of Ebola in the United States.
A few more — about 6 in 10 — said they approved of the current U.S. military action the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. A majority of both Democratic and Republican voters felt that way.
IT’S THE ECONOMY, STILL
The economy remains the big issue for more than 4 in 10 voters, who rank it ahead of health care, immigration or foreign policy.
Despite the stock market’s recovery and improvements in hiring, most say the U.S. economy is stagnating or even getting worse these days. Those voters were much more likely to vote for Republican congressional candidates.
About a third say the economy is improving, and they strongly backed Democrats.
A big reason voters feel glum: Almost half say their own family’s financial situation hasn’t improved much over the past two years, and a fourth say it’s gotten worse.
Still, the number who say their family’s finances are better has improved from 2010, when Americans were still reeling from the recession. At that time, only 15 percent said their family’s outlook had improved. About 3 in 10 people say things are better today.
A GLOOMY OUTLOOK
Voters were feeling pessimistic. They were more than twice as likely to say that life will be worse for the next generation than to say things will get better, the preliminary exit polls show.
On the economy, the direction the country’s headed and life in general, the majority who took the pessimistic view was more likely to vote for Republican congressional candidates, while optimists strongly favored Democrats.
Nearly 8 in 10 disapprove of the way Congress, currently divided between Republicans and Democrats, is doing its job, according to preliminary exit polls.
More than half disapprove of Obama’s job performance.
The survey of 17,487 voters nationwide was conducted for AP and the television networks by Edison Research. This includes preliminary results from interviews conducted as voters left a random sample of 281 precincts Tuesday, as well as 3,113 who voted early or absentee and were interviewed by landline or cellular telephone from Oct. 24 through Nov. 2. Results for the full sample were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points; it is higher for subgroups.
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