Republicans 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.
The midterm elections — in which Republicans gained 63 seats to take control of the House of Representatives and added six seats to their Senate minority — were widely seen as a rebuke to President Barack Obama. Still, the public now trusts Obama marginally more than congressional Republicans to deal with the country's main problems in the coming years, 43 to 38 percent.
The poll suggests the election results may have been a vote against the status quo, but it was not a broad mandate for Republicans and their agenda. 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 midterms where one or both chambers of Congress changed hands.
After Democrats won back the House and 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 those polled 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 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 election, Republicans held a sizable, 23-point advantage over Clinton on the economy. The new poll has also 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 compensation now making its way through the lame-duck session of Congress.