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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - American voters unhappy at high unemployment are set to oust President Barack Obama's Democrats from control of the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2 elections, a Reuters-Ipsos poll projected on Wednesday.
The national poll found that Americans plan to vote for Republicans over Democratic candidates by 48 percent to 44 percent, an edge that will likely give Republicans dozens of seats in the House and big gains in the Senate.
The poll numbers suggest Republicans would win around 227 seats in the House to 208 for the Democrats, Ipsos pollster Cliff Young said. In the Senate, the poll indicates Democrats would retain control but with a smaller, 52-to-48 seat margin.
A split Congress like that could mean political gridlock after November as the United States struggles to overcome high unemployment, the gaping budget deficit and a fierce debate over tax cuts. Much will depend on whether Obama and Republicans can work together.
In a punctuation mark to what is shaping up to be a tough political year for the Democrats, Obama's approval rating dropped to 43 percent from 47 percent last month, with 53 percent disapproving of the way he is handling his job. Obama's handling of the economy was a leading cause of the drop.
And much of this decline came from his own Democrats. The poll found Democrats' approval rating of Obama has dropped to 70 percent this month from 78 percent last month.
The country was judged to be on the wrong track by 63 percent of American voters, the highest figure in this poll since Obama took office in early 2009 promising change and a path out of an economic slump.
But with unemployment lingering at 9.6 percent, much of that hope has crashed.
All 435 House seats and 37 of the 100-member Senate are up for grabs in the elections, the outcome of which is likely to help determine the course of the second half of Obama's four-year term.
"Looking forward, voters expect the new Congress to deal basically with jobs. A new Republican House would have to have answers to those demands," said Young. "We know basically that American voters believe that both tax reduction and deficit reduction do generate jobs and there are clear majorities on both of those issues."
There was little change since last month in terms of the most important problems facing Americans -- 49 percent said it is the U.S. economy and jobs.
Americans want the focus of the next Congress in 2011 to be on jobs. Among those surveyed, 65 percent said creating jobs should be a "crucial" focus and 97 percent said it is important.
Besides jobs, Americans would like to see Congress address the soaring budget deficit, healthcare, taxes and energy. Of least importance on this list, although still deemed fairly important, are the environment and the war in Afghanistan.
Obama has been traveling extensively seeking to bolster Democratic enthusiasm about voting on November 2, blaming Republicans for the worst recession since the Great Depression and saying they would bring back discredited economic policies.
"The question in this election is not whether or not things are where we want them to be. The question is who is going to help us get to where we want to be," Obama told a Democratic fundraiser in Miami on Monday.
Young said the Democrats' goal is to energize their base voters, but that the base is a bit dispirited by Obama, due in part to the absence of a government-backed insurance option in the U.S. healthcare overhaul he pushed through Congress this year.
"While the Democrats are somewhat energized they are not as energized as Republicans -- and a little frustrated. I would say looking forward, it's going to be very hard for Democrats looking into November to change the overall scenario. That is a scenario that favors the party out of power," Young said.
Obama has urged Democrats to shake off their lethargy. "The idea that we've got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible," he told Rolling Stone magazine recently.
The poll of 1,038 registered voters, including 720 who said they are likely to vote, was conducted October 7-11. The full survey of registered voters has a margin of error of 3 percentage points while the smaller sample of likely voters has a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.
Additional reporting by Simon Denyer and Alistair Bell; Editing by Eric Beech