Poll: Public Uneasy With GOP Leadership

Woodland Democrat

January 8, 2006

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Dissatisfied with the nation's direction, Americans are leaning toward wanting a change in which political party leads Congress - preferring that Democrats take control, an AP-Ipsos poll found. Democrats are favored over Republicans 49 percent to 36 percent.

The polling came as disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to tax evasion, fraud and corruption charges and agreed to aid a federal investigation of members of Congress and other government officials.

President Bush's job approval remains low - 40 percent in the AP-Ipsos poll, with only one-third saying the country is headed in the right direction. Bush also remains low on his handling of Iraq, where violence against Iraqis and U.S. troops has been surging.

"I just don't like the direction our country is going in," said Steve Brown, a political independent from Olympia, Wash. "I think a balance of power would be beneficial right now."

Republicans are watching the situation unfold with some nervousness.

"I don't think anyone is hitting the panic button," said Rich Bond, a former Republican National Committee chairman. "But there is an acute recognition of the grim environment that both parties are operating in."

"If the Democrats had any leadership or any message, they could be poised for a good year," Bond said. "But in the absence of that, they have not been able to capitalize on Republican woes. Because of the size of the GOP majority, Democrats have to run the board, and I don't see that happening."

The public's unease with Republican leadership in the White House and Congress creates a favorable environment for Democrats, said Democratic consultant Dane Strother.

"The problem is you don't vote for a party," Strother said. "You're voting for a member of Congress. And we're a year away" from the midterm elections.

About a third of the public, 34 percent, approves of the job Congress is doing, and nearly twice as many - 63 percent - disapprove, according to the poll of 1,001 adults taken Jan. 3-5. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3 percentage points. Public opinion of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress has been mixed, recent polling found.

"Neither one of the parties has done a very good job so far," said Cristal Mills, a political independent from Los Angeles. "They get away with murder, they get paid to pass certain things. It's the good ol' boy syndrome."

In the Senate, 33 seats will be on the ballot in November, 17 of them currently in Democratic hands, 15 controlled by Republicans, and one held by Sen. James Jeffords, a Vermont independent. Democrats now have 44 Senate seats, and need to pick up seven to gain a majority, six if Vermont independent Bernie Sanders replaces Jeffords.

All 435 House seats are on the ballot this fall, and Democrats need to gain at least 15 to become the majority party and take control of the House.

While many House races are noncompetitive, Republican strategists fear that fallout from the Abramoff scandal will give Democrats fresh opportunity for gains. But they dismiss suggestions that Democrats could take control of the House.

Republicans became the dominant party in the House in 1994, when the GOP picked up more than 50 seats held by Democrats. In that midterm election, Democrats won four open seats that previously were held by the GOP.

Carl Forti, a spokesman for the GOP's congressional campaign committee, said about 30 House seats are competitive this year, compared with more than 100 a dozen years ago. Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, who heads the Democrats' campaign efforts, put the competitive number in 2006 at 42, and he suggested ongoing scandals improve Democratic recruitment of candidates by "making the environment more conducive. It helps move them along in the process."

Some say they want new leadership in Congress because of strong dissatisfaction with current policies.

"I get the strange feeling that we're being sold down the river," said Paul Oulton, an independent from San Ramon, Calif. "We may be in line for some very severe financial problems.

"Give me somebody conservative with common sense. There's too much left and too much right. Give me somebody in the middle of the road."


Associated Press Special Correspondent David Espo contributed to this story.