Poll: Springtime Politics

In a triple hit to the Republicans in Washington, Americans express growing discontent with some of George W. Bush's policies, weak support for Tom DeLay as House majority leader and broad opposition to a change in Senate rules on judicial nominations.

Sampling, data collection and tabulation for this poll were done by TNS.

Views in this ABC News/Washington Post poll are most lopsided on judges: Sixty-six percent of Americans oppose changing Senate rules to make it easier for the Republicans to approve Bush's judicial nominees, with 26 percent in favor. That would be the effect of the so-called "nuclear option" being dangled by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

On DeLay, views on one level are divided: He gets an even split in job approval, 35 percent-38 percent, with many having no opinion. But given the ethics complaints against him, the public by 41 percent-32 percent says he should step down as majority leader. And among those who are closely following the ethics issue (just over a third of the public), many more -- 63 percent -- say he should quit his leadership post.


Springtime Politics
Bush on Social Security Approve Disapprove
31% 64
Senate Rules on Judicial Nominations Change Don't Change
26 66
Tom DeLay Step Down Remain
41 32

President Bush

As for Bush, his approval rating for handling Social Security has fallen to a career low, and on the economy it's a scant point away. His overall job rating, at 47 percent approval, is its lowest since August, though still within its yearlong, roughly 50-50 band. But intensity of sentiment is against him, with Americans 13 points more apt to disapprove strongly than to approve strongly of his work in office -- the biggest such gap of his career.

Bush's slide on Social Security comes in the midst of his 60-day campaign to promote revamping the system. For the first time in polls dating to 2000, a bare majority, 51 percent, opposes a stock-market option for Social Security contributions. Support for the idea, at 45 percent, has dropped by 11 points since last month, precisely as Bush has tried to sell it.

Moreover, if establishing private accounts means cutting the rate of growth in guaranteed benefits for future retirees, support plummets to 25 percent, with 70 percent opposed. And when asked whom they trust more to handle Social Security, the public picks the Democrats in Congress over Bush by 50 percent-32 percent -- another new low for Bush.


Stock Market Option for Social Security
Overall Support Oppose
45% 51
If Lower Growth in Guaranteed Benefits Support Oppose
25 70

Gasoline prices are hurting as well. Sixty-four percent of Americans say the recent rise in gas prices has caused financial hardship in their household, up seven points to tie the record in polls since 2000. (A third say the price rise is a "serious" hardship.) Bush doesn't get all the blame -- three in 10 say it's mainly his administration's fault, but a quarter mainly blame U.S. oil companies, and another quarter blame other oil-producing countries.

Still, only 35 percent approve of Bush's handling of energy policy, while 54 percent disapprove. And more broadly, 63 percent say the economy is in bad shape, and 40 percent approve of the way Bush is handling the economy, a point from his career low. The economy now holds the uncontested top slot as the highest priority for Bush and Congress, cited by 32 percent, five points more than last month.

There's also broad doubt about the situation in Iraq. Fifty-four percent say the war was not worth fighting, 58 percent say the United States has gotten bogged down in Iraq and 60 percent are not confident Iraq will have a stable, democratic government a year from now. Fifty-six percent disapprove of the way Bush is handling the situation there.

Separately, the nation's response to terrorism, the issue that got Bush re-elected, remains the root of his support. Fifty-six percent approve of the way he's handling it.

Judges

The public divides evenly overall on how each party in the Senate is handling the confirmation of federal judges. But more support than oppose the Democrats' action to block a group of appeals court nominees, by 48 percent-36 percent. (While that's largely a partisan result, independents side with the Democrats by a 14-point margin.)

Views on changing Senate rules also are partisan. But while Republicans divide on the issue, with 48 percent in favor and 46 percent against, opposition is heavily one-sided among Democrats (80 percent-13 percent) and independents (70 percent-21 percent) alike.


Senate Rules on Judicial Appointees
Change Don't Change
Republicans 48% 46
Independents 21 70
Democrats 13 80

More generally, 26 percent of Americans view federal judges overall as "too liberal," while 18 percent see them as "too conservative." Most, however, call them "about right" ideologically.

Influence and Values:

In terms of the debate over religion and politics swirling around the issue of judicial nominations, Americans are about as likely to say religious conservatives have too much influence over the Republican Party (40 percent) and to say liberals have too much influence over the Democrats (35 percent). That's a highly partisan result, but independents are 12 points more apt to see too much religious conservative influence over the Republicans than liberal influence over the Democrats.


Too Much Influence?
Religious Conservatives Liberals
(over Republican Party) (over Democratic Party)
All 40% 35
Democrats 52 18
Independents 46 34
Republicans 19 57
Liberals 66 9
Moderates 45 36
Conservatives 16 52

In another measure, 55 percent of Americans say political leaders should not rely on their religious beliefs in making policy decisions. That includes majorities of Democrats and independents (65 percent and 59 percent, respectively); 62 percent of Republicans, by contrast, say the opposite.


Should a Political Leader Rely on Religious Beliefs When Making Policy Decisions?
Yes No
All 40% 55
Democrats 27 65
Independents 38 59
Republicans 62 35
Liberals 20 77
Moderates 36 58
Conservatives 63 32

Comparing the political parties, Americans overall are nine points more likely to say the Democrats better represent their values (47 percent say so) than the Republicans (38 percent). (Thirty-five percent of respondents in this survey identify themselves as Democrats, 28 percent as Republicans, about the same as the 2004 and 2005 averages in ABC/Post polls. It was even on average, 31 percent-31 percent, in 2003.)

Nonetheless, there is a perception among Republicans that their conception of values are on the upswing: Forty-nine percent of Republicans believe that people and groups that hold values similar to theirs are gaining influence in American life. About half as many Democrats or independents, 25 percent and 28 percent respectively, say the same.

As long has been the case, views on many of the issues measured in this survey are sharply divided on political, ideological and religious lines. Approval of Bush's performance peaks among Republicans (89 percent), conservatives (72 percent) and evangelical white Protestants (63 percent). It's lowest among Democrats (20 percent), liberals (23 percent) and those who profess no religion (28 percent).

Methodology:

This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone April 21-24, 2005, among a random national sample of 1,007 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

Click here for PDF version with full questionnaire and results.

You can find more ABC News polls in our Poll Vault.

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