Responses to the latest IBD/TIPP Poll suggest that the economy, one-party rule, the health care bill and the ascendancy of conservatism will be the four defining corners of the square in the political game coming in November.
This is the No. 1 issue on voters' minds. The economy is in recovery, but double-digit unemployment is taking a toll. The November vote would likely reflect their frustration with incumbents and the incumbent party.
Nor is the president of much help to congressional Democrats because Americans do not see his economic performance in a favorable light.
Obama gets good grades from only one-third (34%) of those polled for his overall handling of the economy. And even fewer see his performance favorably on specific economic issues such as handling the federal budget (29%) and creating jobs (30%).
More independents, a key group for November, give the president poorer grades than good grades (43% to 33%) for his handling of the economy, and the gap gets wider for his efforts in creating jobs (40% to 27%) and handling the federal budget (49% to 26%). Some believe Obama misplaced his priorities when he pursued a health care overhaul instead of jobs.
The impact of rising gasoline prices has yet come to the fore.
But in our poll, most (57%) say gas prices are hurting them, with over one-third (37%) feeling the pain greatly.
Americans have had enough of one-party rule. Sixty-percent believe one party control of the Senate, the House of Representatives and the presidency has not been good for the country. Independents (62%) and seniors (66%) say one-party rule has been bad for the country.
Voters sense an arrogance that creeps into governance if no checks and balances exist. For example, our surveys have shown that the public does not support "reconciliations," "deeming and passing bills" and other parliamentary machinations on important matters such as health care.
Further, approval ratings for Congress' performance are dismal. Only 12% give the Congress an A or B for last year's performance. One-fourth give it a D, with a third giving it an F.
Americans who oppose the overhaul bill outnumber supporters by five percentage points (47% to 42%). The intensity of opposition to the plan is high, especially among independents and seniors. Forty percent of seniors and a third of independents strongly oppose the plan.
Members of Congress who supported the health care bill could pay a price for their vote. Two-in-five (38%) Americans are less likely to vote for those who helped pass the bill against one-in-four (24%) who are more likely to vote for those who backed it.
Two-in-five seniors (43%) and over a third of independents (37%) are less likely to vote for members who are overhaul supporters.
The president's liberal policies have helped boost conservatism. Obama misinterpreted his victory in 2008 as a broad mandate for transformational change.
Many voters expected him to drive in the center, but he veered off to the left.
The conservative tilt of the country has always existed. By steadfastly governing from the left, Obama has helped awaken core conservative values — smaller government, lower taxes and strong national security — in voters' minds.
Now most Americans (57%) find themselves to right of Obama. On a 10-point ideology scale, where one is "Very Liberal" and 10 is "Very Conservative," Obama gets a rating of 3.7. Americans give themselves a 6.0.
The Tea Party movement is one manifestation of this phenomenon. Some incumbents dismiss the grass-roots movement as fringe and underestimate its potential. But the Tea Party gets favorable ratings in our poll.
Two-thirds (64%) say they are familiar with the Tea Party.
Of those, one-in-eight (12%) mentioned that a member of his or her household is a member of the movement, and most (59%) of them have a favorable opinion of the movement. Two-in-five (39%) did not have a favorable opinion.
Most Republicans (91%) and a majority of independents (58%) have a favorable view. Democrats (74%) share an unfavorable opinion.
The poll also asked Americans if they'd rather see Democrats retain control or Republicans regain control of Congress. Responses split evenly at 43%. But key voting blocs such as independents (43% to 32%) and seniors (48% to 38%) favor Republicans gaining control.
The IBD/TIPP Poll of 924 Americans was taken April 5 to 10. The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.
• Mayur is president of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, which directs the IBD/TIPP Poll that was the most accurate in the past two presidential elections.