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Post-election, public hopes for change, expects more of the same

Americans say they voted for change, they are hoping for change, but they expect business as usual.

That’s one of the messages Wednesday out of the latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, the first released after the midterm elections in which Democrats lost six Senate seats and at least 61 seats in the House, the most in a midterm since World War Two.

“The message emerging from this survey, is Americans want to hit the Washington reset button,” said Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted the poll with Republican pollster Bill McInturff, “but they’re skeptical cooperation can replace combat and that progress can supplant gridlock.”

Almost seven-in-10 (68%) say they voted in the midterm elections hoping to see change. By a large majority (61%-33%), they say the election results – and divided government (60%-36%) – are good for the country. But they are doubtful of just how much change will actually take place. Almost three-quarters (73%) say there either will not be much change or just some change. And 76% believe the country is headed for a period of division with the parties showing little willingness to work together or compromise.

The country sees President Obama as more likely to show a willingness to work with Republicans than vice-versa – 67% said Obama is likely to work with Republicans versus just 45% who said the same of the GOP. But that’s the way the Republican base likes it, according to the poll. The country is split on whether it wants elected officials to compromise -- 47% say they do, 43% say they don’t. And just 27% of Republicans want elected candidates to compromise; 63% want them to stick to their campaign positions. In contrast, 64% of Democrats want compromise while 28% do not, and 46% of independents do versus 39% who don’t.

And Americans say they don’t want the president to take the lead role in setting policy for the country -- they want Congress to do it. They said so by a 52%-39% margin in this poll. That 39% for Obama actually is higher than what they said of Bill Clinton in 1994 – after Democrats suffered major losses in the House – and of George W. Bush in 2006, when Republicans lost control of both the House and Senate. Just 30% favored Clinton taking the lead, and even fewer -- 21% -- said so of Bush. The only time in the poll’s history that a plurality of respondents said they wanted the president to set the agenda was after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Obama’s job approval rating in this poll ticked up slightly to 47 percent approving and 47 percent disapproving. That’s the first time since May that more people didn’t disapprove of the job he was doing than approved.

For more on the poll, click here.