Ratings for Bush, Congress Sink Lower

The Associated Press
Wednesday, July 4, 2007; 3:18 AM

WASHINGTON -- Like twin Jacques Cousteaus of the political world, President Bush and Congress are probing the depths of public opinion polling as voters exasperated over Iraq, immigration and other issues give them strikingly low grades.

In a remarkable span, the approval that people voice for the job Bush is doing has sunk to record lows for his presidency in the AP-Ipsos and other polls in recent weeks, dipping within sight of President Nixon's levels during Watergate. Ominously for Republicans hoping to hold the White House and recapture Congress next year, Bush's support has plunged among core GOP groups like evangelicals, and pivotal independent swing voters.

Congress is doing about the same. Like Bush, lawmakers are winning approval by roughly three in 10. Such levels are significantly low for a president, and poor but less unusual for Congress.

"The big thing would be the war," said independent Richard MacDonald, 56, a retired printer from Redding, Calif. "I don't think he knew what he got into when he got into it." As for Congress, MacDonald said, "It's just the same old same old with me. A lot of promises they don't keep."

Bush was risking more unpopularity by commuting I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's prison term in the CIA leak case, and his refusal to rule out a full pardon. Polls in March after the former White House aide's conviction showed two in three opposed to a pardon.

The public's dissatisfaction may be more serious for Republicans because even though Bush cannot run again, he is the face of the GOP. He will remain that until his party picks its 2008 presidential nominee _ and through the campaign if Democrats can keep him front and center.

"Everything about this race will be about George Bush and the mess he left," Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., a member of the House Democratic leadership, said about 2008. "He'll be on the ballot."

Congress' numbers could signal danger for majority Democrats, since they echo the low ratings just before the GOP 1994 takeover of the House and Senate, and the Democratic capture of both chambers last November.

But unlike the president, Congress usually has low approval ratings no matter which party is in control, and poor poll numbers have not always meant the majority party suffered on Election Day. Voters usually show more disdain for Congress as an institution than for their own representative _ whom they pick.

A majority in a CNN-Opinion Research Corp. survey in late June said Democratic control of Congress was good for the country. Yet only 42 percent approved of what Democratic leaders have done this year _ when Democrats failed to force Bush to change policy on Iraq.

Republican strategists hope the dim mood will help the GOP in congressional elections.

"The voters voted for change and they expected change, and they see an institution still incapable of getting anything done," said GOP pollster Linda DiVall.

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