NEW YORK – The gap has narrowed to a slim 3-percentage point advantage for Democrats over Republicans in the latest FOX News likely voter poll, though many voters say they are still deciding which candidate to support in the upcoming Congressional elections. Iraq is mentioned at least twice as often as any other topic as the most important issue in voting this fall. While there are sharp divisions on Iraq, a slim majority says they support the war.
In polling conducted in the days after the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and after a nationally televised presidential address to commemorate the anniversary, President Bush’s job rating is up slightly: 40 percent of voters say they approve, up from 38 percent two weeks ago and 36 percent at the beginning of August.
The partisan division continues to be extreme, with 82 percent of Republicans saying they approve of the president’s job performance compared to just 12 percent of Democrats.
A 53 percent majority of voters says President Bush is honest and trustworthy, the same number as when the question was last asked in May 2004.
Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national telephone poll of 900 likely voters for FOX News from September 12 to September 13. The poll has a 3-point error margin.
By a 41 percent to 38 percent margin, likely voters say if the election were held today, they would choose the Democratic candidate in their district. In late August, Democrats had a 16-point lead in the generic Congressional vote among registered voters and an 18-point edge a month ago.
In this first look at likely voters, self-described independents are more likely to support the Democrat (36 percent) over the Republican (22 percent), though a plurality is undecided (42 percent).
"Traditionally likely voters are more likely to be Republican," says Opinion Dynamics Chairman John Gorman. "As the election gets closer, interest in the elections tends to increase among poorer and less educated respondents, increasing the Democratic percentage among likely voters."
More than 7 in 10 voters say they are still deciding which Congressional candidate to support (72 percent), with about one in four saying they have already made up their mind (25 percent).
Among voters who think it would be better for the country if the Democrats win control of Congress, the main reason is because the "country is ready for a change" (66 percent) rather than because the Democrats have "new ideas" (13 percent).
Opinion is sharply divided on whether it would be a wise to get rid of all the incumbents and start with a clean slate: 39 percent think it would be good for the country if all new people were elected, while a slightly higher number — 42 percent — think it would be bad.
A majority of Americans (55 percent) approves of the job their own Congressional representative is doing, although almost as many say they disapprove of the job Congress is doing generally (53 percent). Approval of Congress has been below 30 percent since March and currently stands at 29 percent.
What’s the biggest motivation for voting this fall? Some people (28 percent) say it’s the candidates — either voting for or against a specific person is the main reason they will go to the polls. Another reason is the war in Iraq, with about equal numbers saying they want to show support for the war (14 percent) as saying to show opposition (9 percent).
Others say anger is motivating them — anger at President Bush and the Republicans (17 percent) or anger at Democrats in Congress (8 percent).
Nearly half of voters overall (47 percent), and 21 percent of Republicans, think President Bush hurts Republican candidates in the elections.
When asked to identify what issue will be the most important in deciding their vote for Congress, the war in Iraq far and away tops all others. Without the aid of a list, 23 percent of voters say Iraq will be the most important issue to them this fall.
The other most common issues cited include the economy (11 percent), terrorism (11 percent), health care (6 percent) and immigration (6 percent).
The War in Iraq
So how do Americans feel about the most important issue? Just over half (51 percent) support the U.S. war in Iraq and 44 percent oppose it.
There is a 58-point gap between the level of support for the war among Republicans (84 percent) and Democrats (26 percent).
Some voters feel so strongly about Iraq that they are willing to vote for a candidate from the opposite party who shares their view over someone from their own party they disagree with on it.
Nearly half of Republicans (46 percent) say they would vote for a pro-war Democrat over an anti-war Republican. Among Democrats, 29 percent say they would vote for an anti-war Republican over a pro-war Democrat.
Voters are somewhat more inclined to think the United States will win the war in Iraq if Republicans are in control (34 percent) than if Democrats are (20 percent). Regardless of which party is in control, more Americans are pessimistic than optimistic about the chances of winning in Iraq.
The War on Terrorism
By a 10-percentage point margin, more Americans think the country is losing the war on terrorism than think the U.S. is winning. In polling since 2001, this is the first time that a majority thinks the United States is not winning the fight against terrorists.
Republicans (64 percent) are almost three times as likely as Democrats (22 percent) and twice as likely as independents (32 percent) to think the U.S. is winning.
"At least part of the increase in Bush’s rating is due to the aggressive campaigning he’s been doing around the terrorism issue linked to the 9/11 anniversary," comments Gorman. "These numbers suggest that the potency of that appeal is diminishing as more and more people doubt the efficacy of our efforts."
Some Americans think the Bush administration has been too aggressive (24 percent) in fighting terrorists, though a 41 percent plurality says "not aggressive enough."
If Democrats win control of Congress, a 53 percent majority says they will not pursue terrorists aggressively enough, with just 9 percent saying they will be too aggressive.
On a separate question, Republicans (34 percent) have the edge over Democrats (22 percent) as the party that will keep the country safer from terrorism, though the highest percentage goes to "no difference" (37 percent).
Americans do not think the economy is improving and Democrats are seen as the party that can make it better.
The poll finds about the same number of people say they are better off (38 percent) as say they are worse off than they were four years ago (37 percent). Before the last election, 40 percent said they were better off and 34 percent worse (October 2004).
By a 24-percentage point margin, more people describe their family’s financial situation as "doing okay" and having extra money each month (56 percent) rather than as "barely getting by" (32 percent).
Overall, about a third of Americans (35 percent) say they feel like the economy is getting stronger, but a 57 percent majority disagrees.
If Democrats win control of Congress, a plurality thinks the economy will get better (39 percent) rather than worse (29 percent). If Republicans keep control, the numbers reverse: 29 percent think the economy will get better and 37 percent say it will get worse.
Does Polarized Mean Paralyzed?
With Election Day less than two months away, Americans believe the nation is more divided politically than it was before the 2004 election. A 54 percent majority says the country is more divided and another 41 percent say it is just as divided today. Hardly any say it is less so (4 percent).
Some people think the partisan bickering in Washington has paralyzed the government’s ability to get things done (38 percent), though the plurality thinks it has complicated things, but not paralyzed the government (43 percent).