WASHINGTON – It's almost as if people can barely stand the thought of President Bush and Congress anymore.
Bush reached his lowest approval rating in The Associated Press-Ipsos poll on Friday as only 30 percent said they like the job he is doing, including an all-time low in his support by Republicans. Congress' approval fell to just 22 percent, equaling its poorest grade in the survey. Both marks dropped by 4 percentage points since early January.
The dour public mood seems to chiefly reflect distress over the doddering economy, which has seen job cuts, financial market slides and real estate losses stoke recession fears. Bush's approval for handling the economy dove to 29 percent, a slide of 4 percentage points in a month and matching his low on that issue, with noticeable slumps among middle-income people, Southerners and city residents.
"He's spent billions of dollars on the war, and the economy here is suffering," said Ron Brathwaite, 41, a Democrat from Brooklyn, N.Y., who was interviewed in the poll. "If you're leading this country, you should start fixing within this country."
Bush and Congress have been overshadowed in recent months by a presidential campaign in which both parties' candidates have emphasized how they would change Washington — an implicit criticism of the president and the Democratic-led Congress. Even the leading Republican contenders have spent little time defending Bush, though they haven't attacked him frequently because he remains popular within the GOP.
Yet Bush's acceptance by his own party is at bottom in the AP-Ipsos poll. Just 61 percent of Republicans gave Bush positive reviews; his previous low was 65 percent last month. Only 28 percent of them expressed strong approval.
About one in 10 Democrats and three in 10 independents gave Bush positive marks.
"I believe we have to protect the country at all costs," said Jack Vogt, 61, a retiree from Lakeland, Fla., and a strong Bush supporter. He said he did not fault the president or Congress for the economy's problems, saying, "I don't feel they can influence it one way or the other."
Bush's previous overall low in the AP-Ipsos poll came in November when his approval rating was 31 percent. His current level is essentially even with that.
Congress also hit 22 percent in October. It usually has lower ratings than the president because it is an institution people love to criticize. Many have negative views of Congress while still supporting their own House and Senate members.
Even so, its ratings are approaching its historic low in the Gallup Poll of 18 percent reached in early 1992 during a furor over lawmakers who bounced House bank checks. Only about one in five Democrats, Republicans and independents approve of Congress' work, with less than one in 20 from each group approving strongly.
"When I see them say they want to investigate Bill Belichick and Spygate, I say, 'Why do you want to investigate something like that when we have things we should address"' like the economy and health care, Mitch Dugger, 46, an independent from Mandeville, La., said.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., recently said the Senate Judiciary Committee may want to examine why the National Football League destroyed evidence in a scandal over cheating by Belichick, the New England Patriots' coach.
Bush also hit a new low in this month's poll for his work on domestic issues like health care, energy and the environment, getting approval from 27 percent, a 7-point tumble since January. Thirty-three percent approved of his handling of the war in Iraq, virtually unchanged.
Underlining the public gloom, after a brief holiday uptick, the mood of the country has returned to its level in November, with just 25 percent saying the country is headed in the right direction.
President Truman had the lowest rating ever in the Gallup Poll with 23 percent approval in 1952 during the Korean War; President Nixon reached 24 percent during the summer of 1974 before he resigned during the Watergate scandal.
The AP-Ipsos poll was conducted Feb. 4-6 and involved telephone interviews with 1,006 adults. It had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.