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No Improvement in Sight for GOP

by Ruy Teixeira

Last week, I commented on the remarkably poor political outlook for the Republicans as we move into the 2006 campaign season. This week brings a slew of new polling data confirming that assessment and showing how, in one area after another, nothing seems to be breaking the GOP’s way.

1. In the latest Time/SRBI poll, Bush has the lowest overall approval rating (40 percent) ever measured by this poll. He also is tied for his lowest rating on the economy (38 percent) and has his lowest ratings ever on Iraq (36 percent) and on the war on terrorism (46 percent).

2. A new Gallup report on public views of the Iraq war finds:

....some of the more pessimistic views Gallup has measured since the war began. A majority of Americans continue to say the war was a mistake and say that they oppose the war. Fewer than one in three Americans say the United States is winning, the lowest percentage Gallup has measured on that question to date.

The Feb. 9-12 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll finds 55% of Americans saying the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq, while 42% disagree. On only one other occasion -- last September following Hurricane Katrina -- did more Americans, 59%, say the war was a mistake.

3. So the Iraq problem is getting worse, not better, for the GOP. What about the economy? There is also a new Gallup report about Americans’ views on the economy. As the report summarizes the situation:

President Bush has been touting the progress in the U.S. economy this week, and the new head of the Federal Reserve, Benjamin Bernanke, gave generally positive views on economic conditions in the country in his testimony on Capitol Hill. The Dow Jones average has been above 11,000; in January, housing starts were more robust than expected; and reports on retail spending were also more positive than expected.

Despite the positive nature of these so-called "hard" economic indicators, however, the attitudes of the average American consumer toward the economy remain relatively dour. Majorities of Americans rate economic conditions at the moment as "only fair" or "poor," say economic conditions in the United States are getting worse, and say now is a bad time to be looking for a quality job.

4. So not much help there. How about that new prescription drug plan? It now seems highly probable that plan will hurt, not help, GOP electoral chances. On top of a spate of news stories indicating this (see, for example, this front page article, “Drug Plan's Start May Imperil G.O.P.'s Grip on Older Voters”, in the February 19 New York Times), the Kaiser Family Foundation has released their latest Health Poll Report Survey showing just 28 percent of seniors favorable to the drug plan, compared to 50 percent unfavorable. And a recent Gallup survey found an even more lop-sidedly negative view among seniors, with 58 percent saying the new benefit isn’t working and only 20 percent saying it is.

5. Another indicator of GOP woes can be gleaned by looking at Bush’s approval ratings in states with important Senate races. Based on the latest SurveyUSA findings, Bush breaks 50 percent in only one of those states (Montana), where he is at exactly 50 percent. From there, it’s all downhill: Tennessee (46 percent); Arizona (45 percent); West Virginia (45 percent); Virginia (45 percent); Florida (42 percent); Nevada (41 percent); Minnesota (40 percent); Missouri (39 percent); New Jersey (37 percent); Ohio (37 percent); Pennsylvania (36 percent); Maryland (35 percent); Michigan (34 percent); and Rhode Island at a stunningly low (25 percent).

6. Turning to House races, the generic Congressional contest continues to show Democrats with a healthy lead in almost all polls. While that does not mean that much this far out, Gallup has provided some interesting subgroup analysis from their latest results among registered voters (RVs). In a poll where Democrats lead by 7 points among all RVs, their lead is 17 points among independents, 13 points among seniors (that prescription drug plan again, no doubt) and a whopping 29 points among young voters (18-29).

7. But lest progressives get too carried away reading these figures, here’s another Gallup data point to ponder. Just 26 percent of the public believes the GOP has a clear plan for solving the nation’s problems....which sounds good, until you look at the next result which indicates an even smaller number (23 percent) believe Democrats have a clear plan for solving the nation’s problems.

Based on that number, it seems the Democrats would be ill-advised to just coast into November, presuming to win big simply on the basis of GOP woes. They still need something clear and cogent to say. And, no, “We can do better” is probably not it.