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Survey: Americans Have Cynical View of Politics

WORD OF WARNING
Saturday, July 28, 2007

In a week in which an argument between Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) dominated the political headlines, a new survey offers a warning to all politicians that the American people have come to this campaign with a wholly cynical view of the political process.

The Battleground Poll is a long-running bipartisan project that has regularly taken the temperature of the electorate. The newest report, issued by Republican Brian Tringali of the Tarrance Group and Democrat Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners, includes several startling indicators of a political system in distress.

Majorities of Americans believe that most politicians are not trustworthy, and they hold an unfavorable view toward them in general. That was in line with what many surveys have shown.

Even more striking was the answer to the question of whether Americans believe that their own member of Congress puts partisan politics ahead of constituents' interests. Fully 71 percent said yes, and 63 percent strongly held that view.

Because Americans have generally held their own members of Congress in much higher regard than they do the institution -- and still do by most estimates -- the answer to that question shocked the team that produced the survey.

Lake called it "downright flabbergasting and a very, very serious warning" to all politicians that the national political environment is highly unstable. "It's a warning to all the candidates that they have to straddle these two worlds: effectiveness and not being an insider," she said.

Tringali said he and Lake were equally struck by the pessimism they found. A plurality of respondents (38 percent) believe that their children will be worse off in the future, compared with a third who said they "think their own children will be better off than they are right now -- a drop of 7 points since January."

Tringali wrote in his analysis of the findings that it would be "hard to overemphasize" what a sea change this represents in the attitudes of a country that long has prided itself on its optimism.

-- Dan Balz

HEADING FOR THE EXITS

McCain's Campaign Loses

Yet Another Member

Fred Davis did the logo for Sen. John McCain's 2008 campaign, and his firm designed the new Straight Talk Express bus. But Davis said he has left McCain's campaign to pursue other work.

"That is true, sadly so," Davis said in a brief interview. "When there's not much media, there's not much need for media people."

McCain (R-Ariz.) has lost all but one member of his media team, which was announced with fanfare in January. "These guys are the best in the business, and should I seek the presidency, I am confident that they will help deliver our message of common-sense conservatism to voters across this great land," McCain said at the time.

Media advisers Stuart Stevens and Russ Schriefer have left, and with Davis's departure, only Mark McKinnon remains. Asked whether he would join another presidential campaign, Davis declined to say.

"I have a clue," he said. "But I did not leave for someone else. Everyone really likes John . . . and the whole team."

Scores of McCain campaign aides, including his campaign manager, have either been laid off or left of their own accord since McCain announced that his campaign was practically out of money at the end of June.

-- Michael D. Shear

THE COLOR OF POLITICS

Clinton Tries to Court

Support of Black Voters

In the same week in which Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) began running ads on black radio stations in South Carolina, Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) was trying to court African American support just as aggressively.

On Thursday, her campaign hosted a lavish event at the Hyatt Regency in Washington for 200 black male supporters; it included a video tribute to Clinton from record producer Quincy Jones and a speech from the senator about her plans to improve the lives of American black men. The attendees included billionaire mogul Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television and now the owner of the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats, and Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), a longtime Clinton ally.

Yesterday, speaking in St. Louis at the annual convention of the National Urban League, Clinton called for the federal government to spend billions to close the "achievement gap" between black and Hispanic students and white students in education performance.

And last night in Fairfax, she courted black women in an unusual forum -- an awards ceremony for the National Beauty Culturists' League, a group of cosmetologists, hair dressers, barbers and skin-care professionals.

Also yesterday, Clinton's campaign sent out a fundraising letter saying a Washington Post fashion writer's column on Clinton's cleavage was "grossly inappropriate," and asking donors "to take a stand against this kind of coarseness and pettiness in American culture."

One week after the piece, by Robin Givhan, took note of the Democratic candidate's low neckline during a speech on the Senate floor, senior Clinton adviser Ann Lewis urged donors to help fight treatment that she called "insulting."

Clinton and Obama are tied in most national polls among black voters and are in a close race for their support in South Carolina, the first state in the primary process with a large black population.

-- Perry Bacon Jr.

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