"Huge" gains: AP poll has GOP ahead on all major issues, viewed favorably by ... 52%

Like Ace says, the eyepopper is the favorables. The last time Gallup had the GOP over 50 percent was … 2005; not even in the supercharged atmosphere of 2008 did they manage to cross midfield. Granted, this is an Ipsos poll, not Gallup, but any poll above 50 percent is significant. No doubt some of it’s due to people psychologically justifying their vote: Even if you favor the GOP as the lesser of two evils, instinctively you’ll strain to view them more positively so that they seem worthy of your support. But part of it too is surely owing to the campaign the party has run, emphasizing jobs and spending cuts first and resisting the urge to bog down in secondary concerns this year like social issues. For all the lefty blather about how extreme and insane and wingnuttish the new tea-party flavored GOP is, it sure seems to be playing well with voters thus far, huh?

All signs point to huge Republican victories in two weeks, with the GOP now leading Democrats on virtually every measure in an Associated Press-GfK poll of people likely to vote in the first major elections of Barack Obama’s presidency…

“They seem to have a better format. They seem to be getting more to the point. There’s not as much trash talk,” Terri Thebeau, a 54-year-old medical manager from St. Louis, says of the Republicans. She doubts Obama’s ability to pull the nation out of recession, saying: “I don’t see him as a strong enough candidate to get us out of this mess.”

In another worrisome sign for Democrats, women now split pretty evenly between the two parties, 49 percent favoring Democrats, 45 percent Republicans. In 2006, Democrats took over Capitol Hill in part by winning 55 percent of the female vote to 43 percent for Republicans…

52 percent have a favorable impression of the GOP; 44 percent view the Democratic Party positively.

Republicans get higher marks with likely voters than Democrats on handling the economy, taxes, the deficit, job creation, immigration and national security, and on managing the federal government. Likely voters are evenly split on which party would best handle health care and Social Security.

Republicans lead 50/43 on the generic ballot, precisely the same result that the Journal got yesterday. As for the GOP’s improvement among women, which will be ruinous to Democrats if it holds up on election day, the polling director at the University of New Hampshire gives credit where it’s due:

Smith credits Sarah Palin – who endorsed [Kelly] Ayotte in the primary – with helping shift a decades-old dynamic. Where suburban women were a core part of the Republican party in the 1960s and ’70s, they shifted to the Democratic party in the 1980s and 90s, and have been a core part of the Democratic base ever since.

“Republicans kind of wrote them off and didn’t really bother to actively recruit women as voters because they figured they would vote Democrat anyway,” Smith said. “What Palin has done is to say that women wouldn’t necessarily vote for a Democrat, and might vote for a woman Republican.”

The big caveat: While Ayotte leads by 10 among women, other Palin-backed mama grizzlies — notably Angle and O’Donnell — are getting crushed by their male opponents among women voters. Whether that’s best explained by differences between the candidates or by the vagaries of each state, I’m not sure, but rest assured that GOP strategists (and Team Palin especially) will be studying Ayotte’s formula for success verrrrry carefully this winter.

Exit question: Is it really true, as WaPo columnist Steven Pearlstein suggests today, that we voters are all just big dummies on the issues and are lashing out against The One for something that isn’t entirely his fault, i.e. the economy? See, I keep hearing things about how the Republican enthusiasm gap this year will be decisive — here’s a WaPo story on it vis-a-vis the Dems’ interest in early voting — yet I simply can’t imagine conservatives being in the frenzy that they are right now without things like, say, ObamaCare having happened over the past 21 months. The Dems would be in for a beating next month no matter what given the unemployment rate, but without health-care reform and a big fat porky stimulus, there’s simply no way you’d have this sort of intensity on the right at the moment. On the contrary, imagine if the David Brooks version of Obama — post-partisan pragmatist! — had turned out to be what we got and The One had spent nine months working on ways to try to reduce annual deficits. Think the tea party would be where it is now?