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'Like It Never Happened': Public Shrugs at Midterm Results, Poll Shows

Image: Firefighter Cheyne Hansen takes a sign out of storage at a municipal garage while helping election officials scramble to set up a last-minute polling place

Firefighter Cheyne Hansen takes a sign out of storage at a municipal garage while helping election officials scramble to set up a last-minute polling place, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014, in Camden, Maine. Sunday's snow storm knocked out power to much of the town, including the usual voting location at the public safety building, so officials decided to set up a polling place at a nearby church hall. AP

The recently concluded midterm elections cost billions of dollars, generated thousands of different headlines and resulted in Republicans winning control of the U.S. Senate.

But they didn’t change much else – especially the public’s attitudes about politics in Washington, D.C., according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Consider:

  • More than three-quarters of Americans say the election won’t substantially change the nation’s direction;
  • More say they have less confidence that elected leaders in Washington will start working together to solve problems;
  • And Americans are split almost evenly between positive (41 percent) and negative (39 percent) reactions to Republicans controlling both the House and Senate next year.

A sampling of these short responses: “A good thing,” “About time,” “Complete disaster,” “Awful,” “I guess we’ll see,” “Indifferent.”

“While this wave election has changed the composition of Congress and added Republican governors, it has not changed the nation’s psyche or their expectations,” says Democratic pollster Fred Yang of Hart Research, who conducted this survey with the Republican pollsters at Public Opinion Strategies.

Surveying the Wreckage 3:52

Indeed, about two-thirds of Americans continue to say that the nation is on the wrong track, President Obama’s approval rating remains in the 40s and a majority still thinks the nation’s economic and political systems are stacked against them.

“It is almost like the election never happened,” Yang adds.

What election?

According to the poll, a combined 76 percent of respondents say there will be "just some change" or "not that much change" as a result of the election. By comparison, just 21 percent say it will result in “a great deal of change” or “quite a bit of change.”

Similarly, more respondents say they have less confidence (32 percent) that politicians will start working together, versus those who have more confidence (26 percent). A plurality (40 percent) said the election made no difference here.

Asked about their opinion of the election results, 53 percent reacted positively, versus 40 percent who had a negative reaction – lower than it was in the NBC/WSJ poll after the 2010 midterms (61 percent positive, 33 percent negative) and 1994 midterms (69 percent positive, 23 percent negative).

That said, a majority of Americans (56 percent) want Congress to take the lead role in setting policy for the country, versus those who prefer President Obama to do so (33 percent).

Public to Washington: We want compromise

If there’s one thing the public wants after the election, it’s this – compromise.

By a 63 percent-to-30 percent margin, respondents want their elected candidates to make compromise instead of sticking to their campaign positions.

Manchin: U.S. Wants Senate, 'This Beautiful Body' to Work Together 0:45

Fifty-three percent say it’s likely that Obama will work with congressional Republicans to get things done, while 44 percent say it’s likely that Republican leaders will work with Obama.

And 46 percent are more concerned that Obama won’t make the adjustments voters want after the election, compared with 44 percent who are more concerned that Republicans will go too far.

Obama’s approval rating: 44 percent

As for President Obama’s standing after the election, 44 percent of adults approve of his overall job performance, which is his highest rating since April.

The last NBC/WSJ poll taken before the midterm elections showed the president’s job rating at 42 percent, but that was among registered voters, not all adults.

Also, Obama’s personal favorable/unfavorable rating is right-side-up at 45 percent positive, 43 percent negative among adults – the first time it’s been above water since April.

What should the next Congress do?

The NBC/WSJ poll also lists several actions the next Congress might take beginning in 2015. From most popular to least popular:

  • 82 percent support Congress providing access to lower the costs of student loans;
  • 75 percent support increasing spending on infrastructure, roads and highways;
  • 65 percent support Congress raising the minimum wage;
  • 60 percent support approving emergency funding to deal with Ebola in West Africa;
  • 59 percent support addressing climate change by limiting carbon emissions;
  • 54 percent support building the Keystone XL pipeline;
  • 49 percent support eliminating most tax deductions in return for lower tax rates;
  • 49 percent support authorizing the use of U.S. troops to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria;
  • 44 percent support reducing Medicare and Social Security benefits for wealthier retirees;
  • 44 percent support making new trade agreements with select Asian nations;
  • 41 percent support cutting funding for the health-care law;
  • 39 percent support creating legal status for immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally;
  • 34 percent support gradually raising Social Security’s retirement age to 69 by 2075.

The NBC/WSJ was conducted Nov. 14-17 of 1,000 adults, including 350 cell phone-only respondents and another 25 reached on a cell phone but who also have a landline. The poll’s overall margin of error is plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.