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Poll Finds Americans Pessimistic, Want Change

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[Do you think things in this country are: 1) Going off in the right direction - 24%; 2) Off on the wrong track - 74%; 3) No opinion - 2%]
228: Poll Question
By Dan Balz and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, November 4, 2007

One year out from the 2008 election, Americans are deeply pessimistic and eager for a change in direction from the agenda and priorities of President Bush, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

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Concern about the economy, the war in Iraq and growing dissatisfaction with the political environment in Washington all contribute to the lowest public assessment of the direction of the country in more than a decade. Just 24 percent think the nation is on the right track, and three-quarters said they want the next president to chart a course that is different than that pursued by Bush.

Overwhelmingly, Democrats want a new direction, but so do three-quarters of independents and even half of Republicans. Sixty percent of all Americans said they feel strongly that such a change is needed after two terms of the Bush presidency.

Dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq remains a primary drag on public opinion, and Americans are increasingly downcast about the state of the economy. More than six in 10 called the war not worth fighting, and nearly two-thirds gave the national economy negative marks. The outlook going forward is also bleak: About seven in 10 see a recession as likely over the next year.

The overall landscape tilts in the direction of the Democrats, but there is evidence in the new poll -- matched in conversations with political strategists in both parties and follow-up interviews with survey participants -- that the coming battle for the White House is shaping up to be another hard-fought, highly negative and closely decided contest.

At this point, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), the Democratic front-runner, holds the edge in hypothetical match-ups with four of the top contenders for the Republican nomination. But against the two best-known GOP candidates, former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), her margins are far from comfortable. Not one of the leading candidates in either party has a favorable rating above 51 percent in the new poll.

And while Clinton finds herself atop all candidates in terms of strong favorability -- in the poll, 28 percent said they feel strongly favorable toward her -- she also outpaces any other candidate on strong unfavorables. More than a third, 35 percent, have strongly negative views of her, more than 10 points higher than any other contender.

Overall, the public's sour mood is evident not only in the desire for a change in direction but also in assessments of those who control the reins of power in Washington. For the fourth consecutive month, Bush's approval rating remains at a career low. Thirty-three percent said they approve of the job he is doing, and 64 percent disapprove. Majorities have disapproved of Bush's job performance for more than 2 1/2 years.

In follow-up interviews, people were quick to find fault with what they see in Washington and to express their desire for something different. "I think Bush has been extremely polarizing to the country," said Amber Welsh, a full-time mother of three young children who lives in Davis, Calif. "While I think it started before Bush, I think Bush has pushed it even further. I think the next president needs to be one who brings us together as a country."

Democrats can take little comfort in Bush's numbers, however. A year after voters turned Republicans out of power in the House and the Senate, approval of the Democratic-controlled Congress's performance is lower than the president's rating, registering just 28 percent. That is the lowest since November 1995, when Republicans controlled Congress and the capital was paralyzed in a budgetary fight that shut down the government.

Congressional Democrats now fare just slightly better. Only 36 percent of those surveyed approve of the way they are handling their jobs, down sharply from April when, 100 days into the new Congress, 54 percent said they approved.

Whatever their dissatisfaction with the Democrats, however, a majority of Americans, 54 percent, said they want the party to emerge from the 2008 election in control of Congress; 40 percent would prefer the GOP to retake power. One reason is that 32 percent approve of congressional Republicans, and in a series of other measures it becomes clear that the eventual Republican nominee for president may be burdened by a tarnished party label in the general election.


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