WASHINGTON – Public opinion of President Bush and congressional Republicans has dipped significantly since March,according to a new national poll.
President Bush,Republicans in Congress and the Republican Party all have approval scores below 50 percent,according to the most recent George Washington University Battleground 2006 Poll,which was presented at a Tuesday news conference. The poll surveyed 1,000 likely registered voters nationwide between Oct. 9 and Oct. 12,and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
Two-thirds of respondents said the country is on the “wrong track.” The top issues identified by voters are the war in Iraq and the economy and taxes,the poll said.
Despite Democrats temporarily having the upper hand,experts remain split on whether this shift in opinion will result in Democrats re-taking Congress come 2006.
“The most surprising thing I found in the data is that Democrats have not moved forward in this environment,” said Ed Goeas,president of the Tarrance Group and the Republican canvasser for the poll. “Democrats find themselves in the best political climate in more than a decade but are not making gains on the numbers.”
Since March,8 percent more respondents had an “unfavorable” opinion of the Republican Party,now 49 percent,and 45 percent now have a favorable view,according to the poll.
Democrats had a statistically insignificant drop in favorability from 49 percent to 48 percent,with 45 percent viewing the party unfavorably. Approval has declined for the party since March 2004,however,when it was 54 percent.
“We have the opportunity to link the economy and reform mood in a way that would be quite,quite powerful,” said Celinda Lake,Democratic pollster and president of Lake,Shell,Perry,Mermin and Associates. “If Democrats are able to position themselves as the party of reform,voters could very well turn 2006 into a quintessential six-year-itch election.”
Despite the lower numbers,Goeas said other indicators in the poll show promise. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they approved of Bush as a person,compared to 53 percent who said he was doing a poor job.
Because most people still approve of Bush as a person,they will be more open to changing their minds if he and Republicans turn things around,Goeas said.
“At the end of the day,a lot of things that are being talked about are being talked about over a year from the election,” said Brian Nick,spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “We're going to have the ability to point to several accomplishments as a party – the highway bill,energy bill and tax relief – and that's a message we can run on.”
The Republican and Democratic senatorial committees recruit candidates and organize the parties' approaches to campaigns.
“This is just further evidence that America is losing faith in the ability of Republicans to run Congress and they're looking for new leadership,” said Phil Singer,spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “We are very optimistic that we are poised to make significant gains and pick up seats.”
The Senate now has 55 Republicans,44 Democrats and one independent. Singer said he thinks the party could pick up seats in Ohio,Pennsylvania and Arizona.
The House campaign committees could not be reached for comment.