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  •   Poll Shows More Citizens Satisfied With Government

    By Richard Morin and Claudia Deane
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Wednesday, January 21 1998; Page A06

    Happy days are here again. Or at least happier days, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News national survey that found Americans are far more satisfied now than at any time in recent years with the overall direction of the country, their elected leaders in Washington and with the performance of the federal government.

    Economic growth at home and relative peace abroad continue to benefit President Clinton, whose job approval rating stands at 60 percent -- the 22nd straight time since mid-1995 that Clinton's approval rating has topped 50 percent in Post-ABC News polls.

    At the same time, public support for Congress is as high now as it was in the euphoric days immediately after the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Three out of four Americans approve of the job their representative in Congress is doing, a record for the 1990s. Currently, two out of three say their representative "deserves" to be reelected -- an early sign that this year's congressional elections may be less volcanic than those in 1994 or 1996.

    Though half the country continues to express some unhappiness with the federal government, far more people than ever say they are satisfied with the way government is working and fewer people say they are angry.

    Even those "angry white males" of elections past seem less dyspeptic today than they were just a few years ago. According to the survey, 44 percent of all working-class white men interviewed said they were at least "satisfied" with the performance of the federal government, more than double the 20 percent who expressed a similar view in January 1995.

    Embattled House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) also is enjoying a surge in respect, if not popularity: 40 percent of those interviewed said they approved of the job that Gingrich was doing as speaker, up from 26 percent in April. But only 32 percent said they had an overall favorable impression of Gingrich, up from 23 percent nine months ago.

    While the president and Congress have benefited from buoyed public spirits, Vice President Gore has not. The proportion of Americans who question whether Gore has the honesty and integrity to be president stands at 46 percent, up only slightly from 43 percent in October. However, more than half -- 54 percent -- said they approved of the job Gore is doing as vice president.

    Is everybody happy? Not quite. Half of those interviewed said the country is "seriously off on the wrong track." But that's down from 77 percent just two years ago, and 44 percent said the country is headed in the right direction, more than double the proportion who expressed similar optimism in 1996.

    Americans also see potential problems ahead. More than half of those interviewed said they expected the economy will be hurt at least somewhat by a succession of economic crises in Asia. And the on-again, off-again confrontation with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein remains a concern, the survey suggests.

    A total of 1,206 randomly selected adults were interviewed Jan. 15-19. The margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

    The survey found economic confidence at record levels. According to the poll, 75 percent of those interviewed described the economy as "very good" or "good," up from 64 percent less than a year ago.

    Clinton clearly benefits from good economic times. His job approval rating stands at 68 percent among those who think the economy is doing well. But among the 24 percent of those interviewed who said the economy was performing badly, just over a third -- 36 percent -- said they approved of Clinton's performance.

    Nearly two in three approve of the way Clinton is handling race relations, including eight out of 10 African Americans interviewed. Even half of all Republicans say Clinton is doing a good job on race, the survey found.

    A majority of those interviewed also approve of the way the White House is handling foreign affairs. But approval for Clinton's Iraq policies is declining. Currently, 53 percent support Clinton's handling of Iraq, down from 60 percent in November and 70 percent in September 1996.

    The survey also suggests that most Americans support key elements of the administration's legislative agenda that Clinton will present to Congress next week in his State of the Union message.

    Six in 10 say they favor Clinton's plan to let people buy Medicare coverage starting at age 62. And nearly as many approve of the administration's proposal to allow certain laid-off workers to buy Medicare coverage beginning at age 55. Two in three favor increasing federal taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products. Three out of four support raising the minimum wage.

    And when asked what they would do with any budget surplus, 39 percent said it should go to repairing the Social Security system, 29 percent would use it to reduce the national debt and 14 percent would increase spending on domestic programs. Only 16 percent favored a tax cut, which is supported by congressional Republicans.

    The survey found that Congress as an institution is more popular now than at any time in recent history. Nearly half -- 47 percent -- say they approve of the job that Congress is doing.

    Individual members are even more popular. Three out of four respondents said they approved of the job their representative is doing, a view shared by half of those interviewed in an October 1994 Post-ABC News survey.

    The survey found Americans are divided over who deserves most of the credit for trying to balance the federal budget: 44 percent said Clinton, while 41 percent credited the Republicans in Congress, results that predictably divided sharply along party lines.

    Americans are just as split over who should decide what to do with any budget surplus. According to the poll, 45 percent said they trusted congressional Republicans to divvy up any extra money, 43 percent said the president.

    © Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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