Whenever a new Washington Post/ABC poll gets released, I’m a bit like a kid on Christmas morning: I can’t wait to unwrap it.  Well, all right, I’m usually more like a really cynical kid on Christmas morning, because the gift in question is usually wrapped in bad sampling that skews the data.  Today’s poll, however, has a slightly more realistic partisan split (about which more in a moment), and therefore comes up with a result that has more predictive value.  Not coincidentally, it also has Republicans dominating Democrats and Barack Obama slipping badly:

For the first time in more than four years, Republicans run about evenly with Democrats on the basic question of which party they trust to handle the nation’s biggest problems. Among registered voters, 40 percent say they have more confidence in Democrats and 38 percent say they have more trust in Republicans. Three months ago, Democrats had a 12-point advantage.

Three months ago, the WaPo/ABC sample had a nine-point Democratic advantage in the partisan split, with a D/R/I of 34/25/38.  Today’s poll has a D/R/I among registered voters of 31/26/37, with a five-point advantage still being too high and both Democrats and Republicans slightly underrepresented.  Both Rasmussen and Gallup this year have the actual partisan gap at a single point.

So why has the Post/ABC poll suddenly begun improving its sample split to something closer to reality?  In order to claim accuracy and reliability, its final poll before the midterms has to get close to the actual results.  I’d bet that the final poll sample from the Post/ABC partnership winds up with a two- or three-point split between Republicans and Democrats, and oversamples independents as this poll does.

Still, it’s hard to be too churlish when the results all break in one’s favor (emphasis mine):

Among all voters, 47 percent say they would back the Republican in their congressional district if the election were held now, while 45 percent would vote for the Democrat. Any GOP advantage on this question has been rare in past years – and among those most likely to vote this fall, the Republican advantage swells to 53 percent to the Democrats’ 40 percent.

Voters were also asked whether they think it is more important to have Democrats in charge of Congress to help support the president’s policies or to have Republicans in control to serve as a check on Obama’s agenda. Here, 55 percent say they prefer Republicans, while 39 percent choose Democrats. The GOP’s 16-point edge is double what it was in July.

Obama’s overall job rating is at a new low in Post-ABC polling, with just 46 percent of all Americans giving him positive marks and 52 percent negative ones. On two big issues, disapproval of the president’s performance has reached new highs: Fifty-seven percent now disapprove of his handling of the economy and 58 percent give him low marks on dealing with the deficit.

Obama’s 46/52 is the first underwater rating of his term in office from the Post/ABC poll, which shows readers what creative sampling can do.  He’s been underwater on the economy for most of the year, though, with a term-low 41/57 at the moment.  His numbers haven’t changed much on the deficit or on Iraq, despite his Oval Office speech on the latter.  He gets a 49/45 for following the Bush playbook, from 48/42 in July — hardly an improvement.

Voters also have concluded that Obamanomics is a flop.  In April, when their survey used a ten-point split favoring Democrats, the Post/ABC poll showed that 39% of respondents thought it was making the economy better, 26% worse, and 32% thought it had no effect.  Those numbers now are 30% improving, 33% making it worse, and 36% no effect.  Of course, those April numbers came before the Wreckovery Summer campaign, too.

The shift in momentum can clearly be seen even without the slightly better sampling, the incremental nature of which can’t account for the entire gains the GOP has made in the history of this poll in 2010.  But it will be interesting to see just how much more the GOP “improves” when the Post and ABC finally get to the last survey before the midterm elections, and how that sample will look.