Iraq Pulls Down Poll Numbers for Bush and Congress
Congress completed a popularity freefall last month, finding its approval ratings now almost identical to two other things Democratic leaders would rather not be associated with: President Bush and the Iraq war.
Factoring in margin for error, roughly 30 percent of the public now approve of the job performance of Congress and President Bush, as well as the situation in Iraq.
According to the latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll, just 29 percent of adults approve of the job performance of Congress, while 65 percent disapprove. That's a marked drop from the 44% approval rating on Capitol Hill back in mid-April.
FALLING CONGRESSIONAL APPROVAL RATINGS
SOURCE: Washington Post-ABC News Poll, April and September
Democrats are largely responsible for the Congress's plummeting approval rating. The party suffered a 20-point drop, between April and the end of September. This drop is largely attributable to a huge chunk of the party's liberal base that is furious with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for not turning back Bush's war policies.
Bush's approval rating is stuck at 33 percent, essentially unchanged for the entire year, while 64 percent disapprove of his job performance.
The poll data shows that the war in Iraq is no longer just Bush's political albatross, but is dragging the Congress into a similarly unpopular depth. Not surprisingly, then, the percentage of adults approving of the situation in Iraq is exactly between the congressional and presidential approval ratings: 30 percent.
All this comes on the eve of a fascinating legislative showdown between Bush and legislators heading into the home stretch of the first term of the 110th Congress. Both sides are digging in for a battle over a host of domestic policy items.
Democrats believe they are better positioned to handle this fight, eyeing with glee the pending veto override effort on their $35 billion expansion of the state Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Democrats believe that their base will rally around them in these domestic policy battles despite frustration over the war.
Today's Post-ABC poll backed up Democratic claims that their party is favored by voters on a host of pocketbook issues, showing leads over Republicans by significant margins: 56-26 on health care; 51-33 on the economy; 54-34 on the federal budget. In addition, the poll found 72% of adults favoring the Democratic-led expansion of SCHIP.
But the biggest problem for Pelosi and Reid are independents, whose support was crucial last fall. Just 24% of independents approve of the performance on Capitol Hill. That's the exact congressional approval rating among independents on the eve of last year's electoral blood bath for Republicans. Just 16 percent of respondents said the new Congress had accomplished a "great deal" or a "good amount," which is even lower than the pre-election accomplishment percentage reached by Congress on the eve of the electoral disaster suffered by Democrats in 1994.
These are frightening political indicators for Democrats today.
As Jon Cohen and Dan Balz noted in today's Washington Post, the 29% approval rating is the lowest for Congress since November 1995, 10 months after Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) became the first Republican speaker in more than 50 years. At that time, Gingrich embarked on a showdown with President Clinton that came to be his defining political defeat, shutting down the government over spending battles. Clinton clearly won, while Gingrich's national image never recovered. Clinton was unpopular -- with approval ratings in the low 40s -- and used the confrontation to pivot back into popularity and cruise to re-election in 1996.
As Bush, Pelosi and Reid take up a similar fight 12 years later, the winner may well be determined by which side can better secure the support of those independents that have helped declare most political winners in past legislative battles.
October 2, 2007; 5:35 PM ET
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