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Americans seek new direction, poll finds

But President Bush's low approval rating is still higher than that of Congress.

By DAN BALZ and JON COHEN, Washington Post
Published November 4, 2007


WASHINGTON - One year out from the 2008 election, Americans are deeply pessimistic and eager for a change in direction from the agenda and priorities of President Bush, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Concern about the economy, the war in Iraq and growing dissatisfaction with the political environment in Washington all contribute to the lowest public assessment of the direction of the country in more than a decade. Just 24 percent think the nation is on the right track, and three-quarters said they want the next president to chart a course different than that pursued by Bush.

Overwhelmingly, Democrats want a new direction, but so do three-quarters of independents and half of Republicans.

Dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq remains a primary drag on public opinion, and Americans are increasingly downcast about the state of the economy. More than six in 10 called the war not worth fighting, and nearly two-thirds gave the national economy negative marks.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, holds the edge in hypothetical presidential matchups with four of the top contenders for the Republican nomination. But against the two best-known GOP candidates, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, her margins are far from comfortable. Not one of the leading candidates in either party has a favorable rating above 51 percent in the new poll.

For the fourth consecutive month, Bush's approval rating remains at a career low. Thirty-three percent said they approve of the job he is doing, and 64 percent disapprove.

Approval of the Democratic-controlled Congress' performance is lower than the president's rating, registering just 28 percent.

Whatever their dissatisfaction with the Democrats, however, a majority of Americans, 54 percent, said they want the party to emerge from the 2008 election in control of Congress; 40 percent prefer the GOP to retake power.

Iraq is tops across party lines, but Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to highlight health care as one of the two most important issues for 2008, 34 percent to 16 percent. Health care concerns peak among African-Americans: Twenty percent called it the election's single most important issue, and 38 percent said it is one of the top two.

While 12 percent of Republicans and 10 percent of independents cited immigration as one of the top two issues, it was highlighted by just 3 percent of Democrats. Terrorism is also a more prominent concern among Republicans; 17 percent put it in their top two, while only 3 percent of Democrats did the same.

Support for allowing same-sex civil unions is up significantly from 2004. A majority of respondents, 55 percent, now support giving homosexual couples some of the legal rights of married heterosexuals.

There is a more even divide on another hot-button issue: Fifty-one percent would support a program giving illegal immigrants the right to live in the United States legally if they pay a fine and meet other requirements.

The poll

The Washington Post-ABC poll was conducted by telephone Oct. 29 to Nov. 1 among a random sample of 1,131 adults, and includes additional interviews with randomly selected African Americans for a total of 203 black respondents. The results from the full poll have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.