Decade-high discontent marks the political landscape a year before the 2008 election, with economic worries compounding the public's war weariness, deep dissatisfaction with the sitting president -- and growing disapproval of the Democratic-led Congress.
Seventy-four percent of Americans in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll say the country is headed in the wrong direction, the most since the government shut down in a contentious budget battle in early 1996. And while George W. Bush remains at his career low in job approval, he now has company: A year after they won control of the House and Senate, approval of the Democrats in Congress has fallen to its lowest since 1995.
At play are two of the most powerful forces in politics: an unpopular war and economic anxiety. On Iraq, 63 percent of Americans continue to say the war was not worth fighting. And at home, nearly two-thirds rate the economy negatively, with nearly seven in 10 seeing some likelihood of a recession in the year ahead.
A clear demand is for change; 75 percent want to see the next president lead the nation in a direction different from Bush's. That compares to just 47 percent who held that view at this point in Bill Clinton's presidency, 55 percent in Ronald Reagan's. Even among Republicans, a bare majority wants a change in direction from Bush's.
Indeed, while 67 percent of Republicans still approve of Bush's job performance, that's a career low within his own party. (Among all Americans, just 33 percent approve.) And a majority of Republicans, 53 percent, say the country's off on the wrong track; that soars to 74 percent of independents and a nearly unanimous 91 percent of Democrats.
While the Democrats retain the upper hand on most issues, they've failed to retain their grasp on the sentiment that brought them to power in Congress: Approval of the Democrats in Congress has dropped by a remarkable 18 points since spring. And in the presidential race, Hillary Clinton, while highly popular within her party, remains a divisive figure more broadly. Nearly half the public views her unfavorably, and more view her "strongly" unfavorably than any other leading candidate in either party.
Challenges to the Republicans are deeper still. While Giuliani retains the advantage for the nomination, he's still comparatively weak in the Republican base. And his own personal favorability rating -- the basic measure of a public figure's popularity -- has dropped sharply, from 67 percent in December to 50 percent now, on par with Clinton's.
Just 39 percent of Americans view the Republican Party favorably, the fewest since 1998 and down a remarkable 24 points from its post-9/11 high in early 2002. Substantially more hold a favorable view of the Democratic Party -- 51 percent -- although this, too, is far below its best, 64 percent in late 2000.
Fifty-four percent of Americans want the Democrats to retain control of Congress after the next election. But given their declining ratings, the Democrats' current advantage is hardly a lock. And the discouraged, disgruntled nature of public opinion may make the election of 2008 a particularly unpredictable one.