WASHINGTON – It's not Obamacare or climate change. It's not yet terrorism or fear of the Islamic State group. Those issues are on the minds of voters as they begin casting ballots in this year's midterm elections, but nothing matters to American voters as much the economy.
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In a new Associated Press-GfK poll released Wednesday, 9 in 10 of those most likely to go to the polls or mail in a ballot in this year's midterm elections call the economy an extremely or very important issue.
"We need jobs," said Christine Kamischke, 45, of rural northern Michigan. She works in a large retail store and her husband was recently laid off from his job at an Air Force base near their home. Wednesday was his first day without work. The couple has five children.
Kamischke said the economy is her top concern, and she's focused on national security only if it helps get her husband's job back.
The poll found that concerns about the spate of foreign policy challenges facing the U.S. have grown since July, with 6 in 10 Americans now calling the U.S. role in world affairs an important issue, up from 51 percent in July.
And most people remain dissatisfied with those in power. Just 7 percent of likely voters approve of the way Congress is handling its job, 42 percent approve of President Barack Obama's job performance.
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Asked how they feel about his administration, 58 percent are dissatisfied or angry, while 74 percent were dissatisfied or angry with the Republican leadership in Congress.
Few see change coming once voting closes Nov. 4. A majority of likely voters, 52 percent, expect the Democratic Party to retain control of the Senate, with 68 percent saying the GOP will keep the House.
About 8 in 10 likely voters deemed several issues important, including the threat posed by the Islamic State group, terrorism, and the issue many thought would come to dominate this year's electoral contests, health care.
But all told, 92 percent of likely voters called the economy an extremely or very important issue.
Persistent concerns about the economy are fueled by perceptions that things aren't getting better. Just 38 percent of likely voters describe the economy as "good," and half as many think there's been any improvement in the last month. The outlook for the future is dim, with only 34 percent expecting any improvement in the coming year.
Wayne Savage, of Allegan, Michigan, who turns 55 on Friday and works in manufacturing, said his top priority in the voting booth will be the economy and national security, followed by immigration. He says that the economy is slowly improving in his part of southwestern Michigan.
"Manufacturing is starting to do a little better here," he said. "We still have a long way to go, but things are moving in the right direction."
A shift in focus toward the threat of terrorism could benefit the GOP, the poll suggests. About 4 in 10 likely voters trust the Republicans more to protect the country while just a quarter prefer the Democrats. On handling the economy, however, the GOP holds a much smaller edge, 36 percent to 31 percent for the Democrats.
Neither party holds a clear advantage in the coming election, which has already started as early voting begins in some states.
Asked which party they'd like to see win control of Congress, 45 percent of likely voters prefer Republicans and 42 percent the Democrats. In their own districts, those surveyed are evenly split: 33 percent back a Democratic candidate, 33 percent a Republican, 10 percent another candidate and 23 percent are undecided.
In those places where Senate campaigns are nearly impossible to avoid, voters aren't bullish on the GOP's chances of taking the Senate. Among likely voters in 10 states with competitive Senate races, 52 percent think the Democrats will hold the Senate while 49 percent think the Republicans will take control. These voters are also evenly split on which party ought to control Congress, 44 percent favor each party.
That neither side has grabbed a clear edge is unsurprising given the public's take on those currently in power.
Among all likely voters, majorities have unfavorable opinions of each party — 96 percent say they are dissatisfied or angry with the leadership of one side or the other. Among those who prefer a GOP-controlled Congress, 52 percent say they're dissatisfied or angry with the current Republican leadership.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted September 25-29, 2014, using KnowledgePanel, GfK's probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,845 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points for all respondents. Among 958 likely voters, the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 points.
Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn't otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.
Associated Press writers Steve Peoples in Washington, Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans and M.L. Johnson in Milwaukee contributed to this report.
AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com