06/16/05 FOX Poll: Congress 'Out of Touch'; Majority Supports Renewing Patriot Act

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Over half of voters think Congress (search) is out of touch with the country, and fewer than one-in-five believe Congress has passed legislation this year that would improve the quality of life for Americans. Clear majorities think the Patriot Act (search) is good for the country and support extending the legislation, which is set to expire at the end of the year. In addition, more than twice as many voters oppose closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay as support closure. These are just some of the findings from the latest FOX News nationwide poll of voters.

The poll shows that 54 percent of voters think Congress is out of touch with what is going on in the country, including almost half (48 percent) of Republicans. These new results are a reversal from previous polling when 52 percent said Congress was in touch and 35 percent out of touch (June 2003).

Given the recent gridlock and intense partisan bickering, it’s not surprising that a 63-percent majority thinks most senators and representatives are currently better described as "petty politicians fighting for personal gain" than as "statesmen doing service for their country" (17 percent). This less than positive view of elected officials could be one reason why voters, by more than three-to-one, favor term limits.

Moreover, 61 percent of respondents say Congress has failed to pass any legislation so far this year that they believe will "improve the quality of life" for most Americans — that’s over three times as many as believe lawmakers have approved legislation that will positively affect Americans’ lives (18 percent).

Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News on June 14-15.

"This anti-incumbent mood among the public has to be frightening for many Republican leaders since it is highly reminiscent of 1994 when Republicans used discontent to take power," comments Opinion Dynamics President John Gorman. "With so many safe Congressional districts and cozy incumbents, the only likely way to have major change in the makeup of Congress is a 'throw-the-bums-out' movement fueled by a nationalized campaign. Instead of asking voters to oppose their own representative, they can be asked to oppose the Republican majority as whole."

One piece of legislation a majority of voters support is renewal of the Patriot Act. A 57 percent majority says the Patriot Act is a good thing for America, up from 54 percent last year (April 2004). Similarly, support for extending the act is up slightly (3 percentage points), as today 56 percent support and 31 percent oppose renewing the legislation.

By 50 percent to 35 percent voters think the Patriot Act has helped prevent terrorist attacks in the United States.

There are clear partisan differences in how voters view the Patriot Act. More than three-quarters of Republicans (76 percent) support extending the act compared to 40 percent of Democrats. Also, Republicans (71 percent) are more than twice as likely as Democrats (33 percent) to think the act has helped prevent terrorist attacks.

Recently, after allegations that troops mistreated prisoners, some critics have urged the closing of the U.S. military prison that houses terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay (search), Cuba. The poll finds almost 6 in 10 voters (59 percent) think the prison should stay open, 22 percent think it should be closed and 19 percent are unsure.

In addition, 43 percent think the prison meets "accepted standards for treating prisoners," while 33 percent think the prison is failing to meet those standards and almost a quarter (24 percent) are unsure.

Prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay are given copies of the holy Muslim book the Koran. If the situations were reversed, and Muslims were holding Americans as prisoners, few respondents think the same sensitivity would hold true: 10 percent believe Americans would offered copies of the Bible, while 75 percent do not.

Anticipating Supreme Court Retirements

When respondents were asked which of the three branches of government they trust the most, the judicial branch tops the list at 33 percent, followed by executive at 22 percent and legislative at 20 percent. A faithful 3 percent say they trust all three branches, 11 percent trust none, and 5 percent say "mixed."

Significant change is expected in the judicial branch with the likely retirement of one or more Supreme Court justices — possibly as early as this summer. Many voters (58 percent) "welcome" changes on the country’s highest court while 28 percent are "uneasy" about the changes.

Many anticipate the retirement of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who has been ailing with thyroid cancer since late 2004. Even though Rehnquist has been on the U.S. Supreme Court for over 30 years and has been chief justice for almost 20 years, many people are unfamiliar with his name. Today 30 percent have a favorable opinion of Rehnquist, 16 percent unfavorable, 29 percent are unsure and 24 percent say they have "never heard of" him.

Just over half (54 percent) say they are comfortable with President George W. Bush selecting the next Supreme Court nominee (31 percent "very" and 23 percent "somewhat") and 43 percent are uncomfortable (15 percent "not very" and 28 percent "not at all" comfortable). The number of voters at ease today with President Bush choosing the next nominee is down slightly from six months ago when 59 percent said they were comfortable and 34 percent uncomfortable (November 2004).

Presidential Job Performance

Overall, President Bush’s job rating is essentially unchanged from late April and currently stands at 48 percent approve and 43 percent disapprove. The president’s ratings continue to show a huge partisan gap, with his approval among Republicans at a lofty 86 percent compared to 14 percent among Democrats and 46 percent among independents.

• PDF: Click here for full poll results.