REWARDING IDIOCY…. By most measures, Republicans have spent the last year acting like children — reckless, disturbed children who fiddle with matches and take pleasure in playing in traffic.

For nearly 13 months, GOP officials on the Hill have engaged in unprecedented abuse of the political process, blocking good legislation, offering insane ideas in response to major national challenges, rejecting their own ideas when embraced by Democrats, and generally being an embarrassment to themselves and the country.

Naturally, then, Republicans are making major gains in the polls.

Republicans have significantly narrowed the gap with Democrats on who is trusted to deal with the country’s problems and have sharply reduced several of President Obama’s main political advantages, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The survey paints a portrait of a restless and dissatisfied electorate at the beginning of a critical election year. More than seven in 10 Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing, and as many say they’re inclined to look for new congressional representation as said so in 1994 and 2006, the last times that control of Congress shifted.

Asked how they would vote in the November House elections, Americans split evenly — 46 percent siding with the Democrats, 46 percent with the Republicans. As recently as four months ago, Democrats held a 51 to 39 percent advantage on this question.

Dems still enjoy an edge on problem solving, but the margin has shrunk considerably. When asked, “Overall, which party, the Democrats or the Republicans, do you trust to do a better job in coping with the main problems the nation faces over the next few years?” respondents preferred Dems, 43% to 37%. It’s the closest margin in four years.

President Obama is still more trusted than the GOP to handle every polled area of public policy — the economy, health care, budget deficit, combating terrorism, and creating jobs — but the president’s lead over Republicans is the smallest it’s been since he took office.

Reality should suggest the opposite. As Republicans grow more irresponsible, and become less coherent, their numbers should drop. But as the economy continues to struggle, and congressional Dems prove unable to govern in the face of obstructionism at levels unseen in American history, the public has soured on those trying to clean up the messes Republicans left in the wake of the Bush/Cheney fiasco.

But let’s be clear: literally the only way for Republicans to shake off their madness and grow up would be for them to face an intense backlash from the public. Poll results like these send the opposite signal — Americans are encouraging the GOP to keep up the bad work.

Update: The poll internals online says the poll was conducted in January, but I’ve since learned that the Post’s text was mistaken, and that the poll was done in February. I’ve updated this post accordingly.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.