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Ahead of Elections, U.S. Public Says Pocketbooks Take Primacy

U.S. President Barack Obama's Democrats are expected to lose their majority in the House of Representatives, while their control of the Senate is uncertain.
WASHINGTON -- Two years ago, voters hungry for change and a new direction for the United States swept Barack Obama into the White House. Legislators from his Democratic Party, riding the wave of enthusiasm, took control of both chambers of Congress.

But as the saying goes, the only real constant is change, and two years later, as voters prepare to cast their ballots in the midterm elections on November 2, the opposition Republican Party is predicted to make sizable gains.

A survey conducted by the Rasmussen polling company for the week ending October 24 predicted that U.S. voters will place their confidence in Republican candidates over Democratic ones by 49 percent to 40 -- a margin that could give the Republicans a majority of seats in the House of Representatives and cut into the Democrats' control of the Senate.

Other polls show that Republicans, whose conservative base has been energized by the nascent Tea Party movement, are more likely than Democrats to show up at the polls on election day.

When they do, all measures indicate that the state of the country's economy, still weakened by the recession and high unemployment, will be on their minds.

It's The Economy...

Zach Skinner voted for Obama in 2008 but now calls that decision "unfortunate." Worried about his job, the Virginia resident tells RFE/RL that he'll likely switch party allegiance in the upcoming vote.

"Probably [I'll vote for] the Republicans at this point. The Democrats are screwing [things] up. They're sending the economy down the drain faster than it's ever been," Skinner says.

According to recent data collected by the Gallup polling company, registered voters say the stalled economic recovery is the most important issue on their minds and takes significant precedence over other election issues, including the war in Afghanistan.

Courtney Roberts, a college student from Nebraska, agrees that most people are going to vote with their wallets.

"Obama is going to get the troops out of Afghanistan when their job is done. And Iran, well, everyone wants to make them turn around," Roberts says. "This [election] is about people's pocketbooks, I think."

Barbara Bergsma of Wisconsin says it's "logical" that money matters will influence voters' decisions. But she also says that Republicans have been wrongly blaming Democrats for the tough times.

"For some reason, the Republicans keep [saying] that the Democrats are spending money we don't have and are digging us deeper into a hole," she says, "when they seem to forget that [in 2000, after former President Bill Clinton, President George W. Bush] came in with a surplus and [Republicans] were arguing over what to do with the surplus."

More Political Gridlock

Kevin Mack says Obama's goal of bridging the divide between the country's new major political parties remains entirely unrealized. Increasingly partisan politics, he says, don't give "real leaders" much room to work.

"There's a saying in this town: 'The facts, although interesting, are irrelevant' -- [which means] that the political process [is more important than] everything," Mack says. "And I think that's what we're seeing here. It's unfortunate, because I don't think we give the leaders -- real leaders -- a chance to lead. We look to cut them down the minute they are in office."

Another voter, Herb Paine agrees. Now a management consultant, he says he formerly ran for elected office as a Democrat in Arizona. But this time, taking advantage of the chance to vote early in his home state, he put his confidence in the tiny Green Party.

He says he voted partially to "protest" what he sees coming in the next two years. "What's for sure, in my judgment, is that we're in for two more years of gridlock," Paine says. "For all intents and purposes, the day after the elections, if it hasn't already begun, the campaign for 2012 is already on its way."