Poll: Democrats Hold Slightly Narrowed Lead

While 59 percent say the country's on the wrong track, this too was worse -- 69 percent -- just before Congress changed hands in 1994. It was worse still in 1992, when economic discontent pushed Bush's father out of office.

One continuing trend is in the level of anti-Bush voting this year: Registered voters by nearly a 2-1 margin, 31 to 17 percent, say they're casting their vote to show opposition to Bush rather than to show support for him. (The rest, 50 percent, say he isn't a factor.) 1998 is a stark contrast: Then, even in the height of the Lewinsky scandal, just nine percent said they were voting to show opposition to Bill Clinton.

Anti-Bush Voting
 
Will one reason for your vote for Congress be to:  
Express support for Bush   17%
Express opposition to Bush   31%
Bush not a factor   50%

Anti-Bush sentiment extends to his party; registered voters are nine points more likely to say most Democrats deserve re-election than to say most Republicans do. Still, the number who say most Democrats deserve re-election has ebbed somewhat; campaign criticisms may have taken some toll.

War

The public's most prominent complaint is the war in Iraq: Asked, open-ended, why they say the country's going in the wrong direction, three in 10 registered voters cite the war, putting it far and away first. About half as many, 16 percent, raise economic concerns; 12 percent mention corruption or general distrust of politicians; 11 percent cite problems with Bush.

Similarly, 31 percent call the war in Iraq the most important issue in their vote; 21 percent say it's the economy; 12 percent health care; and about as many, 11 percent, cite terrorism. That's different than 2002, when the economy and terrorism shared top billing, and 2004, when it was terrorism, Iraq and the economy bunched together.

The change hurts the Republicans. Among people who call terrorism their No. 1 issue, Republican candidates lead by nearly 60 points, 77-19 percent. Among the many more who call Iraq their top issue, by contrast, Democratic candidates lead, 73-26 percent.

Although it doesn't seem to hurt them among Iraq voters, Democrats have slipped a bit on another Iraq gauge: Registered voters break evenly on whom they trust more to handle the situation in Iraq, the Democrats or the Republicans, 42-42 percent. It was a 48-40 percent Democratic lead last month.

That may stem from the lack of consensus on whether the Democrats are offering the country a clear direction that's different from the Republicans: Registered voters divide, 49-47 percent, on whether that's the case. It matters: Leaving aside partisans, among independent voters who see a clear Democratic direction, Democrats for House lead by 72-23 percent. By contrast, independents who don't see a new course from the Democrats divide, 44-50 percent, in their vote preference.

Another question is whether the Democrats were hurt by a comment last week by Sen. John Kerry that some took as disrespectful to veterans. In this poll military veterans split 42-51 percent (Dem.-Rep.) for House; in an early October ABC/Post poll, it was essentially the same, 40-51 percent.

Vote Preference by Top Issue
  Democratic candidate Republican candidate
Iraq voters   73%   26%
Economy voters   54%   42%
Terrorism voters   19%   77%

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