THE MISSING MANDATE…. After the 1994 midterms, when congressional Republicans making massive gains, the public was strongly inclined to back the GOP. At the time, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that Republicans on the Hill enjoyed a 15-point advantage over President Clinton when Americans were asked who they trusted more to cope with the nation’s problems. When it came to who was taking a “stronger leadership role,” the GOP had a whopping 34-point advantage over Clinton.

Boehner, McConnell, and their cohorts may feel as if they have a similar wind at their backs now. They don’t.

Republicans may have made major gains in the November elections, but they have yet to win the hearts and minds of the American people, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The midterm elections — in which Republicans gained 63 seats to take control of the House and added six seats to their Senate minority — were widely seen as a rebuke to President Obama. Still, the public trusts Obama marginally more than they do congressional Republicans to deal with the country’s main problems in the coming years, 43 percent to 38 percent.

The poll suggests that the election, while perhaps a vote against the status quo, was not a broad mandate for Republicans and their plans. The survey also underscores the degree to which Americans are conflicted about who they think is setting the agenda in Washington.

When it comes to dealing with national challenges, the public prefers the president over congressional Republicans by five points. On the specific issues, the two are roughly tied on handling the economy, terrorism, and taxes; Republicans lead on deficit reduction; and Obama has a sizable advantage on health care and “helping the middle class.”

It’s impossible to deny the fact that Republicans had a very strong year electorally, but if the GOP thinks it has a strong national mandate to pursue a far-right agenda, the party is fundamentally confused about what happened last month.

Elsewhere in the poll, Americans said they are concerned about the deficit, but when asked about nine different ideas for deficit reduction, the public opposed all nine. Try not to be surprised.

As for heightened progressive criticism of the White House, polls like these continue to defy expectations. The president’s approval rating among liberals remains steady at 87%, and only 11% of the country thinks Obama is negotiating too much with Republicans.

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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.