WASHINGTON — 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.
The 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 year, some Republican candidates stood to benefit from complaints about his leadership.
Most voters say the economy is stagnating or getting worse under Obama’s watch. 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, and the last time the exit poll asked that question.
What’s on voters’ minds:
ISSUES CUT BOTH WAYSThe preliminary exit poll shows voters embracing some Republican ideas. Most 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 control of the House in 2010.
On many issues overshadowed by the economy, most voters take positions that align more with the Democratic Party.
Majorities favor a way for those who are in the country illegally to stay. Most also approve of Obama’s military action against the Islamic State group. Most think abortion ought to be legal in most cases and 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.
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 a fourth 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 anti-Obama feeling was a significant drag on Democrats: About a third of voters said their congressional vote was partly a repudiation of Obama. Significantly fewer — 1 in 5 — said their House vote was partly an endorsement of Obama.
As for the feuding, gridlocked party politics in Washington, more than half of voters have an unfavorable opinion of Democrats and more than half feel unfavorably about Republicans.
The survey of 14,699 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.
CONNIE CASS AND EMILY SWANSON, Associated Press
AP Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.