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  •   Poll Rates President, Democrats Favorably

    By Terry M. Neal
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, April 3, 1998; Page A20

    Not only does President Clinton continue to enjoy huge popularity despite the continuing investigation by the independent counsel, but he is in a good position to help his party win congressional seats in this fall's election, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center.

    The poll was taken last weekend and released yesterday. The pollsters stopped short of predicting that Democrats will retake the House majority but suggested the environment is ripe for them to gain the 11 seats necessary to win control. Republicans have in their favor a relatively content electorate and a political environment that seems to favor incumbents. In the Pew poll, 63 percent of registered voters said they would like to see their congressional representative reelected.

    The bad news for the GOP, however, is that 52 percent of respondents said they were more likely to vote for a Democrat, while 40 percent said they'd likely support a Republican this fall. The numbers have widened since August, when Democrats held a 48 to 45 percent edge.

    "What's clear is that the president's strong approval rating and the public's support for his policies and performance are helping the Democratic Party generally," said Andrew Kohut, director of the nonpartisan center. "The Republicans are being hamstrung by the fact that there are no Republican leaders who are well known or very popular with the public."

    House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) was rated favorably by 36 percent and unfavorably by 49 percent. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) continues to toil in anonymity: 52 percent of those surveyed said they had never heard of him. Sixteen percent viewed him favorably and 18 percent unfavorably, according to the poll.

    Republican pollster Neil Newhouse took exception to some of the findings in the Pew poll, which was taken from a nationwide sample of 1,206 registered voters. He said he's seen no other recent poll with such a wide margin favoring either party. "This is a political environment where those political parties are roughly at parity," Newhouse said. "Those numbers are outside of the bounds of believability."

    Newhouse said that in a poll taken by his firm three weeks ago, Democrats were preferred over Republicans 39 to 36 percent – within the margin of error – in a generic matchup question.

    The Pew poll put Clinton's approval rating at 65 percent, similar to other recent polls. It showed the public believed Democrats are doing a better job on seven of 11 key issues, including education, health care and environment. Democrats also edged the GOP on one of its strongholds, taxes, 40 to 39 percent.

    Rep. Martin Frost (Tex.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said yesterday that he expects Clinton will be a major asset for Democrats in congressional elections this fall. "He's been in huge demand," Frost said. "The members have repeatedly asked him to come into their districts."

    The White House was cautious in its assessment of the poll. "We've got a lot of time [before November]," said a White House official, who asked not to be named. "But still, if I had my druthers, I'd rather be where we are than where they are."

    Rating the Parties

    In a recent poll, Democrats gained support as the party better able to bring about change.

        Republican Democratic
    Aug. '97 38% 40%
    March '98 32% 45%

    Respondents thought Democrats are better able to: They said Republicans are better able to:
  • Protect the environment
  • Reform health care
  • Improve jobs
  • Improve education
  • Make America competitive
  • Promote morality and personal responsibility
  • The parties were rated roughly equally in their ability to:

  • Keep the country prosperous
  • Deal with taxes
  • Reduce crime

  • SOURCE: Pew Research Center poll of 1,206 randomly selected adults. Survey was conducted by phone March 25-29 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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