Thursday, October 19, 2006

Spelling Doom? Polls Signal Growing GOP Disapproval as Election Nears

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds public approval of Congress at its lowest level since 1992, two years before the Democrats lost their congressional majority in the 1994 electoral earthquake:

With just 19 days until the midterm elections, a new poll shows both President Bush and his party in worse shape among voters than Democrats were in the October before they lost control of Capitol Hill a dozen years ago.

Support for the Republican-led Congress has eroded to its lowest point since the party's watershed 1994 victory that brought it House and Senate majorities.

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll illustrates the political toll Republicans are paying for rising discontent over the Iraq war, as well as a spate of scandals including the disclosure that Republican House leaders knew of inappropriate emails to House pages from Florida Rep. Mark Foley, who resigned late last month. Voters' approval of Congress has fallen to 16% from 20% since early September, while their disapproval has risen to 75% from 65%.

That 16% rating statistically matches Congress's lowest point in the 17 years the Journal and NBC have polled, set in April 1992 when Democrats were in control and suffering from a scandal involving lawmakers' overdrafts from the House bank. The latest results set other records for the Journal/NBC surveys, all ominous for Republicans -- "a harbinger," in the words of Journal/NBC pollster Peter Hart, "of what's ahead for the incumbent party. It's as simple as that."

They include:

By 52% to 37%, voters say they want Democrats rather than Republicans to control Congress. That 15-point advantage is the widest ever registered by either party in the Journal/NBC surveys. Also, the result marks the first time voter preference for one party has exceeded 50%.

Half of independents say they want Democrats to take charge, while only a quarter of them back Republicans. "It's very unusual to see a majority of independents pick one political party," notes Bill McInturff, the Republican pollster who conducts the surveys with Mr. Hart, his Democratic counterpart.

Two-thirds of the electorate rates this year's Congress "below average" or "one of the worst" -- the poorest showing on that question since it was first asked in 1990.

Mr. Bush, who in the past typically drew high ratings personally even when his job-approval scores sagged, now is viewed negatively by a 52% majority -- essentially tying the worst rating of his presidency.

As for the Republican Party, 32% of voters rate it positively but 49% negatively -- the highest negative ever in the surveys for either party. On the other hand, the Democratic Party's reputation improved. After months in which it had a net negative rating only slightly better than Republicans', the party now is viewed positively by 37% and negatively by 35%.

Along with other findings favorable to Democrats, Messrs. Hart and McInturff see a potential turning point for the party. For months, the Republican pollster has espoused "McInturff's Thesis: If there's a decisive election, it's because the other party becomes a credible alternative." Until now, he has argued, voters' doubts about Democrats were standing in the way of the party making significant gains. But yesterday, the Republican pollster agreed with Mr. Hart that voters now see Democrats as at least "a marginally acceptable alternative."
Also, yesterday' s New York Times reported the results from the paper's recent poll out of Ohio. Ohio is considered a bellwether state for national politics, and the poor results there for the GOP may spell doom for party hopefuls, in the state and nationally:

Ohio is a Republican-leaning but heavily contested state that twice voted to elect Mr. Bush and gave him his Electoral College margin of victory in 2004. But it is not a perfect microcosm of the country, and in particular has higher levels of economic anxiety, the poll found.
Sixty-five percent of those surveyed rated the state’s economy as bad; only 34 percent said it was good. In Ohio, 49 percent of respondents described the nation’s economy as good, and 50 percent said it was bad. In a Times/CBS News poll conducted nationally this month, 60 percent said the economy was good, and 39 percent said it was bad.

A plurality, 46 percent of voters, said the economy and jobs were the most important issues facing Ohio, while 17 percent cited health care, 15 percent said terrorism and 12 percent said the war in Iraq. Seventy percent said that both Ohio and the nation were on the wrong track, a number that often spells doom for the party in power.
I posted yesterday
on Charles Cook's analysis of congressional election trends leading into the November midterms. It's getting hard to deny the inauspicious circumstances surrounding Republican efforts to remain the nation's governing party. There are, of course, some who remain skeptical of the recent pro-Democrat punditry (check the comments from yesterday's post), but I'm getting resigned to the idea of minority party status.

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