Poll Shows Strong Shift Of Support to Democrats

By David S. Broder and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Democrats have regained a commanding position going into the final weeks of the midterm-election campaigns, with support eroding for Republicans on Iraq, ethics and presidential leadership, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Apparent Republican gains in September have been reversed in the face of mounting U.S. casualties and gloomy forecasts from Iraq and the scandal involving Mark Foley (R-Fla.), who was forced to resign his congressional post over sexually graphic online conversations with former House pages.

Approval of Congress has plunged to its lowest level in more than a decade (32 percent), and Americans, by a margin of 54 percent to 35 percent, say they trust Democrats more than Republicans to deal with the biggest problems the nation is confronting. Fifty-five percent of those surveyed said congressional Democrats deserve to be reelected next month, but just 39 percent said Republicans deserve to return to office.

The poll measures broad public attitudes and cannot be translated into individual House districts, but it sketches an environment that is the most difficult the Republicans have faced since taking control of Congress in the 1994 elections. By a margin of 54 percent to 41 percent, registered voters said they plan to vote for the Democrat over the Republican in congressional elections next month.

Since Congress adjourned 10 days ago, Republicans have been swamped by bad news, particularly from Iraq. The Foley scandal, while not a dominant voting issue for many, nonetheless has contributed to dissatisfaction with the majority party's performance, the survey found.

President Bush's approval rating, which rose to 42 percent in September after an anti-terrorism offensive marking the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, registered 39 percent in the latest poll. The percentage of respondents who said they strongly disapprove of his performance is about double the number who strongly approve. This disparity in voter intensity could have implications for turnout on Nov. 7, since impassioned voters are most likely to go to the polls.

The president's approval rating reached a low of 33 percent in May, but he has since regained support from Republicans who had expressed unhappiness with his performance. In the current poll, 82 percent of Republicans said they approve of how he is handling his job, compared with 68 percent in May.

Democrats and independents are almost as negative in their appraisals of the president now as they were five months ago.

Bush's ratings on the war in Iraq are among the lowest of his presidency, with 35 percent approving of how he is handling the situation and 64 percent disapproving (54 percent strongly disapprove). On terrorism, a majority (53 percent) said they disapprove of his performance. That is the lowest rating Bush has received on his signature issue.

Asked whether the war in Iraq has been worth fighting, 63 percent said no, the highest recorded during Bush's presidency. Fifty-one percent agreed with Bush's argument that Iraq is a front in the global campaign against terrorism, the lowest of his presidency. Fifty percent of those surveyed said that the country is safer today than it was before Sept. 11, 2001, but 42 percent, a new high, said the nation is now less safe.

Still, there is no significant support for withdrawing U.S. forces immediately. Half of those surveyed -- about the same percentage it has been throughout the year -- said they would like to see troop levels decrease. Despite the high number of casualties, only a fifth said they supported immediate withdrawal.

With the decline in gasoline prices, Americans are somewhat more positive about the economy, with 47 percent describing it as good or excellent -- the highest since July 2001 -- and 53 percent saying it is not so good or poor. Forty-one percent approve of how Bush has handled economic issues, about the same percentage as in August.

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