WASHINGTON - Two weeks before Election Day, most of the nation's likely voters now expect the Republican Party to take control of the U.S. Senate, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. And by a growing margin, they say that's the outcome they'd like to see.
But the survey suggests many will cringe when they cast those ballots. Most likely voters have a negative impression of the Republican Party, and 7 in 10 are dissatisfied by its leaders in Congress.
The Democrats win few accolades themselves. Impressions of the party among likely voters have grown more negative in the past month. In fact, Democrats are more trusted than the GOP on just two of nine top issues, the poll showed.
The economy remains the top issue for likely voters -- 91 percent call it "extremely" or "very" important. And the GOP has increased its advantage as the party more trusted to handle the issue to a margin of 39 percent to 31 percent.
With control of the Senate at stake, both parties say they are relying on robust voter-turnout operations -- and monster campaign spending -- to lift their candidates in the final days. But the poll suggests any appeals they've made so far haven't done much to boost turnout among those already registered. The share who report that they are certain to vote in this year's contests has risen just slightly since September, and interest in news about the campaign has held steady.
Among all adults, 38 percent say they'd like the Democrats to wind up in control of Congress, to 36 percent for the Republicans. But the GOP holds a significant lead among those most likely to cast ballots: 47 percent of these voters favor a Republican controlled-Congress, 39 percent a Democratic one. That's a shift in the GOP's favor since an AP-GfK poll in late September, when the two parties ran about evenly among likely voters.
Women have moved in the GOP's direction since September. In last month's AP-GfK poll, 47 percent of female likely voters said they favored a Democratic-controlled Congress while 40 percent wanted the Republicans to capture control. In the new poll, the two parties are about even among women, 44 percent prefer the Republicans, 42 percent the Democrats.
In all, the poll finds that 55 percent of likely voters now expect Republicans to win control of the Senate, up from 47 percent last month. Democrats have grown slightly more pessimistic on this count since September, with 25 percent expecting the GOP to take control now compared with 18 percent earlier.
What's deeply important to likely voters after the economy? About three-quarters say health care, terrorism, the threat posed by the Islamic State group and Ebola.
On foreign affairs, Republicans have the upper hand. By a 22-point margin, voters trust the GOP more to protect the country, and they give the Republicans a 10-point lead as more trusted to handle international crises. Democrats have a slim advantage on health care, 36 percent to 32 percent.
Although handling the Ebola outbreak was among the top issues for likely voters, the poll shows little sign that either party could capitalize on fears of the virus as an election issue. More than half said either that they trust both parties equally (29 percent) or that they don't trust either party (24 percent) to handle public health issues like Ebola. The remaining respondents were about equally split between trusting Republicans (25 percent) and Democrats (22 percent).
Same-sex marriage? Only 32 percent said that was an extremely or very important issue to them personally, identical to the percentage saying so in September, before the Supreme Court effectively allowed same-sex marriages to proceed in five more states.
The poll, which asked likely voters whom they preferred among the candidates in the congressional district where they live, found Republicans hold an edge in the upcoming elections. Forty percent said they would vote for the GOP candidate in their House district, while 32 percent said the Democrat. About a quarter backed a third-party candidate or were undecided.
Although likely voters appear more apt to take the GOP side in the upcoming elections, the poll finds little difference between those most likely to cast a ballot and others on negative perceptions of the nation's direction and leadership. Among all adults as well as just the likely voters, 9 in 10 disapprove of Congress, 7 in 10 say the nation is heading in the wrong direction, 6 in 10 disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as president and 6 in 10 describe the nation's economy as "poor."
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Oct. 16-20 using KnowledgePanel, GfK's probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,608 adults, and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points for all respondents. Among 968 likely voters, the margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3.6 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.