Media: ABC News
Date: October 9, 2006
Oct. 9, 2006 - - An unpopular war led by a beleaguered president has pushed
the Republican Party back to a deep deficit in voter preferences. But the
Mark Foley scandal, while it hasn't helped, is a distant concern, with many
doubting that the Democrats would've handled it any better.
The scandal's likeliest impact is that it forces the Republicans off the
anti-terrorism message that remains their best push back against the broad
discontent with the war in Iraq. The scandal has erased the minor gains the
Republicans showed around the 9/11 anniversary.
Among registered voters, the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll finds the
Democrats with a 54-41 percent lead in the congressional horse race, a gauge
of the national mood rather than the status of individual state- and
district-level races. (The lead is the same, 54-41 percent, among likely
voters.) That's the biggest Democratic lead this close to Election Day in
more than 20 years.
Just 32 percent of Americans, moreover, approve of the way Congress is doing
its job -- the lowest approval rating in a decade, although still much
higher than it was before the 1994 election, in which the Republicans gained
control of both the House and Senate.
Beneath these numbers is palpable discontent with Republican leadership --
particularly the president's -- fueled by unhappiness with the Iraq War.
Sixty percent of Americans disapprove of the president's job performance
overall, five points from his worst disapproval ratings, with strong
disapprovers outnumbering strong approvers by a 2-1 margin. Sixty-four
percent disapprove of his handling of the war in Iraq, and a record 63
percent now say it was not worth fighting.
For just the second time in ABC/Post polls, however, most -- a new high of
53 percent -- disapprove of how Bush has handled the broader U.S. campaign
against terrorism, a blow to what has been his greatest strength. Just half
said the country is safer now than it was before 9/11, down from what's
usually been a clear majority. Indeed, such are his woes that less than
half, 44 percent, now give Bush credit for the fact that another major
terrorist attack hasn't occurred in this country since 9/11. And while 51
percent still see the war in Iraq as part of the war on terrorism, that's a
FOLEY -- The Foley scandal has not earned the Republican leadership any
goodwill, but neither does it look like a point of differentiation for the
Democrats. On the one hand 64 percent believe the Republican leadership
tried to cover up the scandal; 75 percent don't believe the Democrats would
have handled it any better; and 62 percent believe the Democrats are
pursuing it for political advantage, not to raise legitimate concerns.
A salience test puts the Foley matter in perspective: Eighty-three percent
of registered voters call Iraq very important to their vote; 78 percent say
the same of terrorism; 77 percent the economy; 71 percent health care; 65
percent ethics in general. By contrast, just 18 percent give that kind of
importance to the Foley situation.
Despite widespread believe that the Republican leadership tried to cover up
the case, the public divides (heavily along partisan lines) on whether House
Speaker Dennis Hastert should step down as a result, with 47 percent saying
he should stay, 45 percent saying he should go. That suggests that for many,
the cover-up suspicion is a weakly held one and is more an expression of
dissatisfaction than an accusation of malfeasance. Most broadly, just 18
percent say the Democrats in general are better than the Republicans when it
comes to ethics and honesty, while 11 percent say the Republicans are
better. Seventy percent instead say there's no difference between the two,
and that's essentially the same as its pre-Foley levels.
Indeed, the scandal taps into longstanding skepticism of congressional
ethics overall. Sixty-nine percent of Americans rate the ethics and honesty
of Congress members negatively, again no worse than it was, for instance,
last December. Better news on the re-election home front is that two-thirds,
in contrast, give a positive rating to their own representative's conduct.
That's actually improved from its level last May.
CONGRESS -- As far as Congress goes, current views seem to engendered more
of an anti-Republican sentiment than an anti-incumbent one. Fifty-five
percent of Americans say that most of the Democrats in Congress deserve
re-election; just 39 percent, however, say the same of most Republican
The Democrats lead in public trust to handle each of seven areas tested in
this poll, including terrorism (on which they've led or run competitively on
and off the past year).
Their approval rating is 13 points higher than the Republicans rating, 48
percent to 35 percent. And 59 percent of Americans would like to see the
Democrats take control of the House. Whether that happens is a soothsayer's
game, and other results are more equivocal. While approval of Congress, as
noted, is just 32 percent, it's been much lower -- 18 percent in October
1994, before that year's transformational election, and 17 percent in spring
1992, in the broad economic discontent that was soon to chase Bush's father
Moreover, despite all the current discontent, 60 percent of Americans
approve of the way their own representatives are handling their jobs,
compared with a markedly lower 49 percent in October 1994.
TALK -- It is clear what the parties would like most Americans to talk
about. Among people who call terrorism the most important issue in their
vote, Republicans hold a 72-26 percent lead in congressional vote
preferences. Among those who say it's Iraq, the Democrats lead by a nearly
identical 71-25 percent.
The Democrats also lead, by 59-35 percent, among registered voters who say
their top issue is the economy. Iraq and the economy rank highest in a
six-item list, followed by terrorism and health care (another strong issue
for the Democrats).
Another subject for the Democrats is the president: Registered voters are
twice as likely to say they'll cast their congressional vote to show
opposition to Bush as to show support for him. Independents say so by an
even larger margin of 3-1: Thirty-five percent voting to show their
opposition to Bush, vs. 11 percent voting to show Bush their support.
That stands in sharp contrast to 2002, when voters showed support for Bush
by 2-1; and from 1998, when Bill Clinton was in the thick of the Lewinsky
scandal. Then 77 percent said Clinton wasn't a factor in their vote,
compared with the 47 percent who say that about Bush now. The rest divided
about evenly between supporting and opposing Clinton, another sharp
difference from Bush-inspired voting today.
Even in the upheaval of 1994, 27 percent said they were voting to show
opposition to Clinton, compared with today's 35 percent voting to oppose
Bush. One factor: Bush's approval rating today is six points below what
Clinton's was then, and his strong disapproval is 18 points below.