WASHINGTON – Independents who embraced President Barack Obama's call for change in 2008 are ready for a shift again, and that's worrisome news for Democrats.
Only 32 percent of those citing no allegiance to either major party say they want Democrats to keep control of Congress in this November's elections, according to combined results of recent Associated Press-GfK polls. That's way down from the 52 percent of independents who backed Obama over Republican Sen. John McCain two years ago, and the 49 percent to 41 percent edge by which they preferred Democratic candidates for the House in that election, according to exit polls of voters.
Independents voice especially strong concerns about the economy, with 9 in 10 calling it a top problem and no other issue coming close, the analysis of the AP-GfK polls shows. While Democrats and Republicans rank the economy the No. 1 problem in similar numbers, they are nearly as worried about their No. 2 issues, health care for Democrats and terrorism for Republicans.
Ominously for Democrats, independents trust Republicans more on the economy by a modest but telling 42 percent to 36 percent. That's bad news for the party that controls the White House and Congress at a time of near 10 percent unemployment and the slow economic recovery.
"People are just struggling, they need a job but there's nowhere to get a job," said independent Leilani Buxman, 55, of Greeley, Colo. Of Obama, she said, "It seems like he talks but he doesn't do anything about it."
Both parties court independents for obvious reasons. Besides their sheer number — 4 in 10 describe themselves as independents in combined AP-GfK polling for April, May and June — they are a crucial swing group.
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