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ABC Poll Results: Battle Lines Drawn in the 2012 Election

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --  A fed-up public is greeting election year 2012 with a razz for the government, a jeer for incumbents and a wearying sense of economic frustration — yet also with sharp partisan and ideological divisions that make the contest ahead equally challenging for both sides.

Thirty-one percent of Americans in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll are downright angry at the way the federal government works, a record in polling back to 1992. Add in those who are merely dissatisfied and the total soars to 80 percent, one point from its high 19 years ago.

Nearly as many, 74 percent, say the country's headed seriously off on the wrong track. Yet, with a 44 percent job approval rating, President Barack Obama is holding above the levels customarily associated with an economy this bad and discontent this broad, with greater-than-usual durability in his political base and comparatively strong ratings for personal integrity and empathy.

Eighty percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they're satisfied with Obama as the party's nominee, far more than the number of leaned Republicans who are satisfied with their choices, 59 percent. That loyalty is keeping Obama competitive: In head-to-head match-ups he runs essentially evenly against Mitt Romney and Herman Cain and leads Rick Perry in this poll, conducted for ABC News by Langer Research Associates.

ECONOMY —  Eighty-nine percent say the economy's in bad shape; nearly half call it "poor." Almost two and a half years after the Great Recession officially ended, 63 percent say that as far as they can see the economy hasn’t even begun to recover, up 10 points since March to match the high in polling the past two years.

The impacts are personal as well as political. A mere 13 percent say they're better off now than before Obama took office; nearly three times as many say they're worse off. Two-thirds worry about being able to maintain their standard of living; 31 percent are "very" worried, a new high in the last four years. Fewer than half, 43 percent, are confident they’ll have adequate resources for retirement, the fewest in ABC/Post polls back to 1996 and down dramatically from 68 percent near the height of the boom, in July 2001.

Sixty-one percent in this survey disapprove of how Obama has handled the economy; 48 percent disapprove strongly — each a single point from its high.

APPROVAL and ATTRIBUTES – The public divides evenly on two other personal measures, whether Obama "shares your values" and is a strong leader. While all these have the expected sharp divisions among partisan and ideological groups, a sign of trouble for Obama is that his rating as a strong leader, now 48 percent, is down from 55 percent just since June, to a new low.

On issues, while Obama's approval is weak on the economy, jobs and taxes, and manages just a split decision on handling international affairs, another stands out as his best: dealing with terrorism, on which he gets 60 percent approval. Dealing with terrorism, a question mark during the 2008 campaign, was Obama's best issue even before the recent successes against al Qaeda including the killings of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki.

Additionally, there’s no harm in Obama's announcement to carry out a full withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq by year's end: a vast 78 percent of Americans approve. Sixty-two percent also continue to say that given its costs vs. benefits the Iraq war was not worth fighting — at once a sad coda and a cautionary note for the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan.

FAULTS and FAULT LINES — On the current economic debate, the public divides, by 49-46 percent, on whether it’s better to hold down the federal deficit rather than spending to try to create jobs, or the opposite. But more generally there’s a very slight advantage for the president in who gets more blame for the economy — Obama, for failing to exercise economic leadership; or the Republicans in Congress, for standing in the way of his efforts. Fifty percent say Obama's trying but Congress is blocking; 44 percent say the opposite, that Obama’s just blaming the Congress for his own lack of economic leadership.

Americans who express a negative view of how the government's working were asked whom they mainly blame for that. Thirty-five percent picked the Republicans in Congress, 32 percent Obama — and 26 percent, both equally. The public also splits, 44-41 percent, on whether they'd prefer to see the next Congress controlled by the Democrats or by the Republicans. That's a new low for the Democrats in results since 2005, and a new high (albeit just to 10 percent) among those who favor "neither" party.

2012 AHEAD — While head-to-head match-ups are a rough gauge this far from an election, they mark out the field of play. Among all Americans, Obama has 48 percent support, Romney 45 percent; just among those currently registered to vote, it's Romney 47 percent, Obama 46 — for all intents and purposes a dead heat either way. Independents, the group to watch in national elections, break 50-41 percent for Obama; one reason, though, is that as Democratic ranks go down, the ranks of Democratic-leaning independents go up.

Each of the potential Republican candidates holds a significant lead over Obama among Americans who say the economy is in poor shape, who say it has not begun to recover, who say they've gotten worse off under Obama and who express high-level worries about their living standards and their ability to pay for retirement. And it's those economic issues that are likely to drive political judgments in the election year ahead.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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