For Democratic Congress, Voters' Singular Disapproval Has Many Seeds

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 30, 2007

To Edwin Robinson, a Milwaukee casino pit boss and a lifelong Democrat, the new Democratic Congress that he cheered seven months ago is now a source of shame, as its leaders try to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.

"Let's not just pull out," Robinson, 50, said. "That feels like being beat again."

Terry Brickman, 43, a Republican-voting independent from suburban Detroit, was no less enthusiastic about the Democrats' victory in November, and is no less disappointed today. By now, he figured, the new Congress would have forced President Bush to change course.

"Congress had the ability with their momentum coming in to really do some things, gain some respect or positive feelings from the American people, and that's gone already," said Brickman, a medical-device sales representative. "They failed."

Brickman and Robinson, two respondents to the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, help explain why Congress moves toward its August recess this week with approval ratings at 37 percent, rivaling the president's low ratings -- and why it has become so difficult for the Democratic leadership to do anything about it. Polling data and follow-up interviews reveal that voters disapprove of the new Democratic majority, but the reasons range wildly.

Iraq is the dominant theme, but no clear consensus emerges about what Congress should do. About half of Americans in the Post-ABC poll said that Democrats have done too little to push Bush on his war policy. Others said in interviews that Congress has neglected domestic issues while focusing on Iraq.

In short, the divisions in the nation at large are well reflected in the paralysis on Capitol Hill.

"My feeling is they're not really standing up for the other side of the story. They're caving and not fighting hard enough for what American people really want," said Jessica Lane, 28, a Democrat and registered nurse in Bremerton, Wash. "Maybe my hopes were just a little too high."

Those sentiments have buoyed Republicans as they attack what they call a Democratic "Post Office Congress" -- unable to accomplish much more than renaming federal buildings.

"The approval rating of this Congress is now down to what we believe is the lowest recorded point in polling history, having apparently squandered whatever political capital they may have achieved with the American people last November the 7th in a record short period of time," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.

But Republicans have not turned those attacks into significant support. Although 46 percent of Americans say they approve of the job Democrats in Congress are doing, 34 percent say they approve of the congressional Republicans' performance.

"The Republicans don't come out of this a winner," warned Nancy Lukacs, 68, a swing voter in the Dallas suburbs. "The Democrats may come out not the winner we wanted, but they are not the losers that turn us back to the Republicans."

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