By Dan Balz and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
Growing frustration with the performance of the Democratic Congress, combined with widespread public pessimism over President Bush's temporary troop buildup in Iraq, has left satisfaction with the overall direction of the country at its lowest point in more than a decade, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Almost six in 10 Americans said they do not think the additional troops sent to Iraq since the beginning of the year will help restore civil order there, and 53 percent -- a new high in Post-ABC News polls -- said they do not believe that the war has contributed to the long-term security of the United States.
Disapproval of Bush's performance in office remains high, but the poll highlighted growing disapproval of the new Democratic majority in Congress. Just 39 percent said they approve of the job Congress is doing, down from 44 percent in April, when the new Congress was about 100 days into its term. More significant, approval of congressional Democrats dropped 10 percentage points over that same period, from 54 percent to 44 percent.
Much of that drop was fueled by lower approval ratings of the Democrats in Congress among strong opponents of the war, independents and liberal Democrats. While independents were evenly split on the Democrats in Congress in April (49 percent approved, 48 percent disapproved), now 37 percent said they approved and 54 percent disapproved. Among liberal Democrats, approval of congressional Democrats dropped 18 points.
Bush's overall job-approval rating stands at 35 percent, unchanged from April.
Many Democratic activists have complained that the 2006 midterm election results represented a call for a course change in Iraq and that so far the Democratic-controlled Congress has failed to deliver.
Deep public skepticism about Iraq, concerns about the Democrats and Bush, and near-record-high gasoline prices appear to have combined to sour the overall mood in the country. In the new poll, 73 percent of Americans said the country is pretty seriously on the wrong track, while 25 percent said things are going in the right direction.
That gap is marginally wider than it was at the beginning of the year and represents the most gloomy expression of public sentiment since January 1996, when a face-off between President Bill Clinton and a Republican-controlled Congress over the budget led to an extended shutdown of the federal government.
Among the nearly three-quarters of Americans expressing a pessimistic viewpoint, about one in five blamed the war for their negative outlook, and about the same ratio mentioned the economy, gas prices, jobs or debt as the main reason for their dissatisfaction with the country's direction. Eleven percent cited "problems with Bush," and another 11 percent said "everything" led them to their negative opinion.
The new poll showed that Americans have recalibrated their view of who is taking the lead in Washington. Earlier this year, majorities of Americans said they believed that the Democrats were taking the initiative in the capital, but now there is an even split, with 43 percent saying Bush is taking the stronger leadership role and 45 percent saying the Democrats are.
That shift occurred across the political spectrum. In April, 59 percent of independents said Democrats were taking a stronger role, but that figure has dropped 15 points, to 44 percent.
The political machinations over the Iraq war funding bill have been the dominant news event in Congress for much of the spring, and the Democrats' removal of the provision linking funding to a withdrawal deadline came shortly before the poll was taken.
In April, the public, by a 25-point margin, trusted the Democrats over Bush to handle the situation in Iraq. In this poll, Democrats maintained an advantage, but by 16 points. There has been an erosion of support for Democrats on this issue, but not a corresponding movement to Bush. Among independents, trust for the Democrats is down eight points, mostly because of a six-point bump in the percentage who said they trust "neither."
Congressional Democrats also are preferred over Bush -- whose own approval ratings remain near career lows -- on immigration (by 17 percentage points), the economy (by 18 points) and even, albeit narrowly, on handling the U.S. campaign against terrorism (by six points).
But it is the war in Iraq -- the most important issue in the 2006 campaign -- that has the most potential to reshape the political landscape.
Overall, 61 percent in this poll said the war was not worth fighting, and nearly two-thirds said the United States is not making significant progress restoring civil order in Iraq. However, there is no such general agreement about what to do.
In this poll, 55 percent -- a new high -- said the number of U.S. military forces in Iraq should be decreased, but only 15 percent advocated an immediate withdrawal of American troops. An additional 12 percent said U.S. forces should be out of Iraq sometime this year.
Since the Iraqi parliamentary elections in November 2005, consistent majorities of Americans have said U.S. troops should be drawn down; support for an immediate, complete withdrawal has also remained relatively stable, never exceeding two in 10. And there similarly has been little change across party lines: 25 percent of the Democrats surveyed wanted all American military forces out of Iraq now, compared with 13 percent of independents and 6 percent of Republicans, with all percentages about the same as in late 2005. Support for the immediate removal of U.S. forces peaked at 32 percent among African Americans.
Public attitudes about the size of U.S. military forces in Iraq and about the war more generally are closely related to views about the centrality of the situation in Iraq to the broader battle against terrorism, another flashpoint between Bush and congressional Democrats. (In this poll, nearly six in 10 agreed with the Democratic position that the two are separate issues.) Overall, more than seven in 10 of those who said Iraq is an essential component of the terrorism fight wanted U.S. troop levels in Iraq to be increased or kept the same, while more than seven in 10 of those seeing the issues as separate thought that some or all troops should be withdrawn. Among independents who said the United States can succeed against terrorism without winning in Iraq, 70 percent supported decreasing troop levels, compared with 23 percent of those who saw victory in Iraq as pivotal.
This Post-ABC News poll was conducted by telephone May 29 to June 1 among a random sample of 1,205 adults. Results from the full poll have a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points. Sampling error margins are higher for subgroups.
Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.