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What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls - Week Ending October 4, 2014

What did Shakespeare’s Macbeth say of life? “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” He might just as well have been talking about politics in America today.

Remember the partial shutdown of the federal government last October and all the pronouncements of doom and gloom? The number of voters who said the country was heading in the right direction fell to a five-year low of 13%, and many in Congress feared for their political careers.

Guess what? A year later, 82% say the shutdown has had little, if any, impact on them personally.  

Confidence in the nation’s direction has returned to the mid- to upper 20s, although that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of the nation’s leadership. And many pundits suggest Republicans, the villains in the shutdown saga, are on the brink of taking full control of the Congress.

Of course, it didn’t help that shortly after the shutdown ended, Obamacare made its public debut, taking the onus off the GOP for heartlessly closing down the federal government and shifting it to the Democrats for dumping the jerry-rigged national health care law on an unwilling public. Voters, by the way, still don’t care much for the health care law. 

Plus it seems there’s a new crisis nearly every day now in Washington, D.C., and who knows where the Ebola problem is leading?

Just this past week, despite strong majority support for sending the latest wave of illegal immigrants home as quickly as possible, the Obama administration announced instead that it is spending $9 million in taxpayer dollars to provide lawyers for some of these illegals. But 68% of voters think these illegal immigrants should not have the same legal rights and protections that U.S. citizens have, and even more (71%) say they shouldn’t be eligible for government services and benefits.

But who cares what voters think, right? After all, most of them opposed Obamacare, too, and have been calling for government spending cuts for years. Only 21%, however, think it’s even somewhat likely that spending will be significantly reduced over the next few years no matter which political party is in power.

President Obama has a new attorney general to nominate, too, with Eric Holder’s announcement that he is stepping down after six years as the nation’s top law enforcement officer. Voters don’t think much of Holder and hope the president will pick an attorney general who is less interested in politics and more interested in administering justice fairly. Republicans want Obama to hold off on the nomination until early next year, hoping that there will be a GOP-led Senate in place to sign off on it.

It’s still too soon, though, to say whether a Republican Senate will be a reality come January. The GOP needs a net gain of six Senate seats to be the majority, and West Virginia remains one of its best chances for a pickup. Colorado, another seat now held by a Democrat, remains a dead heat.

Republican David Perdue still runs slightly ahead of Democrat Michelle Nunn in Georgia’s closely watched U.S. Senate race. That seat is now held by a retiring GOP senator and is one Republicans can’t afford to lose, especially with Kansas unexpectedly in play.

Minnesota continues to be a long-shot for the GOP, with Democratic Senator Al Franken holding an eight-point lead over his Republican challenger.

The Senate seats up this year in Illinois, New Mexico and Rhode Island are all safely Democratic.

Republicans are expected to maintain control of the House of Representatives and perhaps even add to their existing majority. However, just 29% of voters think their representative in Congress deserves reelection.

Democrats have taken a one-point lead over Republicans on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot. The two parties have been separated by two points or less most weeks this year.

The president’s monthly job approval rating rose a point in September to 47%, but it’s been 47% to 48% for much of his presidency. His daily job approval rating has improved slightly in the last week or so, now running in the mid- to high negative teens.

Voters agree with the president’s decision to step up military action against the radical Islamic group ISIS in the Middle East and think involvement by Muslim nations increase the mission’s chances of success.

Obama took to the campaign trail late in the week to tout the improving economy, but he seems to be more optimistic than much of the public. The Rasmussen Employment Index which measures worker confidence fell only slightly in September after reaching an all-time high in August, LINK but consumer and investor confidence continue to track at some of their lowest levels in months.

There’s been some interesting developments in governor’s races around the country. In Colorado, Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper has pulled slightly ahead of Republican challenger Bob Beauprez in his bid to keep his job. 

In Alaska, the governor’s race has a revised cast of characters and a new front-runner. Incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn has edged ahead for the first time this year in Illinois’ gubernatorial race.

Republican Asa Hutchinson is now leading Democrat Mike Ross in the race to be Arkansas’ next governor. Democratic State Treasurer Gina Raimondo is beating Republican Allan Fung in Rhode Island.

Still, one of this year’s most widely anticipated contests remains as anticlimactic as it has been for months: Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott has a double-digit lead over Democrat Wendy Davis in the race to be Texas’ first new governor in 14 years.

At least four deaths in this country have now been attributed to a new strain of the severe respiratory disease known as enterovirus, but most Americans are confident the U.S. public health system can control the virus. 

We’ll let you know Monday morning how confident Americans are that the public healthy system can handle the deadly Ebola virus now that it’s arrived in this country.

In other surveys last week:

-- Most adults think their fellow Americans should be proud of the nation’s history, but most also doubt that they actually know much about it.

-- Americans aren’t sure new codes of sexual conduct on college campuses will reduce the problem of sexual assault.

-- Most Americans still consider military service good for young people but know fewer people who have joined the military out of frustration with the job market.

-- Americans say they have a better chance for career advancement by staying at their current job than going to work for someone else.

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