Democrats Lose Their Edge

The Democrats in Congress have lost much of the leadership edge they carried out of the 2006 midterm election, with the lack of progress in Iraq being the leading cause. Their only solace: President Bush and the Republicans aren't doing any better.

Six weeks ago the Democrats held a 24-point lead over Bush as the stronger leadership force in Washington; today that's collapsed to a dead heat. The Democrats' overall job approval rating likewise has dropped, from a 54 percent majority to 44 percent now -- with the decline occurring almost exclusively among strong opponents of the Iraq War.

Yet the Democrats' losses have not produced much in the way of gains for Bush or his party. The president's approval rating remains a weak 35 percent, unchanged from mid-April at two points from his career low in ABC News/Washington Post polls. The Republicans in Congress do about as badly, with just 36 percent approval.

Another figure underscores the public's broad grumpiness: Seventy-three percent now say the country's off on the wrong track, the most in just over a decade.

The Shift

The shift away from the Democrats in Congress has occurred on two levels. In terms of their overall approval rating, the damage is almost entirely among people who strongly oppose the war in Iraq. In this group 69 percent approved of the Democrats in April, but just 54 percent still approve now -- a likely effect of the Democrats' failure to push a withdrawal timetable through Congress.

Their decline in leadership ratings vs. Bush is more broadly based -- that's occurred among war opponents and supporters alike, apparently reflecting more an assessment of their performance than an expression of support or opposition.

The Iraq Factor

More than anything, these views are fueled by the continued grind of the war in Iraq. Few think the Bush "surge" is working -- 64 percent see no significant progress restoring civil order there -- and, looking ahead, 58 percent predict it will not succeed.

Sixty-one percent say the war was not worth fighting (down a scant five points from April's record high) and majorities reject many of Bush's arguments in support of the war -- that it's a critical component of the war on terrorism, that it has improved long-term U.S. security and that withdrawing poses more danger than remaining.

Perhaps most challenging is the president's credibility gap: Sixty percent of Americans feel they can't trust the Bush administration to honestly and accurately report intelligence about security threats facing the United States. That makes any of Bush's arguments a hard sell.

Indeed, the public still trusts the Democrats in Congress over Bush to handle the situation in Iraq, by 51 percent to 35 percent. But the Democrats' number has slipped from 58 percent in April and a high of 60 percent in January.

Concerns

There are real concerns about what lies ahead for Iraq and the United States alike. If the United States withdraws without civil order first being restored, seven in 10 Americans see any of three possibilities as at least somewhat likely: Full-scale civil war, parts of Iraq becoming a base of operations for terrorists targeting the United States and parts of Iraq falling under Iranian control.

Four in 10 see the first two outcomes as "very" likely, and a third say the same of the third. People who see any of these as very likely are much more apt than others to oppose any decrease in U.S. forces in Iraq.

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