Just five days ago, Gallup’s quarterly survey showed that the gap in partisan identification and leaners in the general American population had narrowed to a single point, down 12 points over the last year of Hope and Change. At the time, I wondered whether the media pollsters would get the message. I needn’t have wondered. Today’s Washington Post/ABC poll offers Democrats some bad news, but they’ve managed to artificially temper it by actually adding a point to the partisan gap in their sample since the last survey:

Members of Congress face the most anti-incumbent electorate since 1994, with less than a third of all voters saying they are inclined to support their representatives in November, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Dissatisfaction is widespread, crossing party lines, ideologies and virtually all groups of voters. Less than a quarter of independents and just three in 10 Republicans say they’re leaning toward backing an incumbent this fall. Even among Democrats, who control the House, the Senate and the White House, opinion is evenly divided on the question. …

Still, for President Obama and his party, there are some positive signs in the poll. The public trusts Democrats more than Republicans to handle the major problems facing the country by a double-digit margin, giving Democrats a bigger lead than they held two months ago, when Congress was engaged in the long endgame over divisive health-care legislation. A majority continues to see Obama as “just about right” ideologically, despite repeated GOP efforts to define the president as outside the mainstream.

Those polled also say they trust Obama over Republicans in Congress to deal with the economy, health care and, by a large margin, financial regulatory reform. And the president continues to get positive marks on his overall job performance, with, for the first time since the fall, a majority of independents approving. Disaffection among independents with Obama’s policies has been one of the major shifts in public opinion over the past year, making this small movement one to monitor over the coming months.

Why did Obama and the Democrats still manage to hold more trust over their GOP opponents?  The pollster talked to more of them, that’s how — and more of them than they did in the last poll, relative to Republicans.  In the March 26th poll, the WaPo/ABC sample had a D/R/I split of 34/24/38, giving Democrats a partisan advantage of 10 points in the poll.  This time, the sample’s split went 34/23/38, and even the independents split in favor of the Democrats, 19/17, up from 17/17 last month.  Just to give some perspective, the partisan gap from their November 2008 poll just before the election was nine points — and 26% of the sample was Republicans, compared to 23% now.

Given the expanding partisan gap shown in this poll, small wonder that Obama winds up with more trust than Republicans among respondents.  It’s also no mystery why the WaPo/ABC poll shows Obama adding to his job approval rating, 54/44, when every other pollster has Obama sinking.  That ten-point swing  in the sample makes quite a difference.

It also makes a big difference in the consolation news the Post and ABC offered Democrats.  The 46/32 split for Dems on trust by party shows that Democrats would be considerably narrower than the 14-point lead this survey shows.  The eleven point lead that Obama has over the GOP for trust on the economy would be completely gone, and the 4-point edge Obama enjoys over Republicans on the deficit would have more than reversed itself.

Consider the ten-point partisan gap fudge when looking at these numbers on the issues, too:

  • Economy – 49/49 approval
  • Health care – 49/49
  • Federal deficit – 40/55
  • Financial regulation – 48/48

One can see why the WaPo/ABC poll overcounts Democrats.  Without them, Obama’s numbers would utterly collapse.

Update: Reid Wilson warns Democrats about the “fed-up electorate” in his National Journal analysis of the poll.