While the Democrats struggle to find a compelling message, Republican candidates may seek distance from their president, complicating Bush's efforts to govern in the year ahead. By nearly a 2-1 margin, 34 percent to 18 percent, Americans say they're more likely to oppose than to support a candidate who's closely associated with Bush.
And independents -- the key swing voters -- say by a slightly wider margin, 37 percent to 12 percent, that they're more apt to oppose a candidate who's closely aligned with Bush.
That reflects Bush's current difficulties -- a career-low 39 percent job approval rating and weakness across issues and personal attributes -- brought on by difficulties in Iraq, the troubled Hurricane Katrina response, economic concerns and the ethics cloud over the White House.
Ethics, though, do not look like a Democratic advantage: Americans roughly divide on which party has a higher level of ethics and honesty -- 16 percent say the Democrats, 12 percent say the Republicans -- and the big majority, 71 percent, rate them the same.
There is also somewhat of a pox on both houses in public attitudes. Just 46 percent of Americans express confidence in the government's ability to get things done. Fifty-nine percent disapprove of the way Congress is doing its job, and 61 percent disapprove of the way the Republicans in Congress specifically are performing. But the Democrats, while better-rated, hardly have bragging rights: Fifty-four percent see their performance negatively as well.
That said, the change in preferences between the parties on issues since they were last asked in an ABC/Post poll in late 2002 is vast. Then, the two parties were rated about evenly in trust to handle the economy; now the Democrats lead by 22 points, 56 percent to 34 percent. On Iraq, the Republicans led by 26 points; now the Democrats lead by 11. On terrorism, the Republicans led by 36 points; now the parties are even.
As strong as they currently are on issues, the Democrats two biggest leads are on attributes: By 33 points, 56 percent to 33 percent, they're seen as the party "more concerned with the needs of people like you." And they hold a 36-point advantage, 60 percent to 24 percent, as the party that's "more open to the ideas of people who are political moderates." The challenge for the Democrats in the next year is to consolidate that image advantage into actual votes across congressional districts.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Oct. 30-Nov. 2, 2005, among a random national sample of 1,202 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS Intersearch of Horsham, Pa.