By Charles Babington and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Americans trust Democratic lawmakers more than President Bush to handle the nation's toughest problems, including the Iraq war, and a quarter of Republicans are glad that Democrats have won control of Congress, a Washington Post-ABC News poll finds.
At the same time, however, most Americans want lawmakers and the president to work together rather than pursue separate agendas. They also have modest hopes about how much the new Congress will be able to accomplish.
The degree to which congressional leaders can sustain and capitalize on initial goodwill is questionable, because the No. 1 issue for most Americans is perhaps the most difficult for Congress and the White House: Iraq. Forty-four percent of respondents said the Iraq war is the most important problem facing the government, easily eclipsing the economy -- the top concern for 10 percent -- and health care, No. 1 for 6 percent.
Asked whether they trusted Bush or Democrats in Congress "to do a better job coping with the main problems the nation faces," 57 percent of the respondents said congressional Democrats and 31 percent said Bush. When the question was broken down to specific problems, such as Iraq, the economy, immigration and the "war on terrorism," Democrats held clear majorities over Bush. Their lead was overwhelming in the area of health care: 64 percent to Bush's 26 percent.
More than half of the respondents said it was a good thing that Congress will switch from Republican control to Democratic; 17 percent called it a bad thing and 1 in 4 said it would make no difference. Shortly after Republicans took over Congress after the 1994 election, 48 percent of Americans said the switch was a good thing.
In the poll, more than 4 in 5 Democrats said the latest change in control of Congress is good, as did 55 percent of independents. Even 23 percent of Republicans called the change a good thing.
Sharon Campbell of Norman, Okla., is among those traditional GOP voters displeased with Bush and Republican lawmakers. A fiscal conservative, Campbell, 64, said in an interview that congressional Republicans "have not been conservative. . . . Look at the debt that's piled up."
Two-thirds of those polled said Bush "should work mainly to compromise with the Democrats" in Congress rather than pursue his own agenda. Fifty-six percent said the next Congress will be able to do "not too much" or "nothing at all" in the next year; 43 percent said it will be able to accomplish a "good deal" or a "great amount."
The public gave relatively low marks to the Republican-controlled Congress that ended last week, with 37 percent saying they approved of how Congress was doing its job and 57 percent disapproving. The Washington Post-ABC News poll was conducted Dec. 7-11 by telephone among a random national sample of 1,005 adults. The margin of sampling error is three percentage points.