WASHINGTON — As the Senate marches closer toward a nuclear showdown over President Bush’s judicial nominees, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that the American public is dissatisfied — with Congress and its priorities, with Bush’s plan to overhaul Social Security and with the nation’s economy and general direction. Moreover, a majority believes that the Senate should make its own decision about the president’s judicial nominees, rather than just generally confirming them.
And while all of this might suggest bad news for Republicans, since the political party in charge often gets blamed when things aren’t going well, the survey also indicates that the public isn’t quite embracing the Democrats either. “It is just a sense of unhappiness with where we’re at,” said Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff.
Perhaps the most revealing finding in the poll is the attitude toward Congress. Just 33 percent of the respondents approve of Congress’ job. That’s down 6 points since a poll in April and 8 points since January.
“The public is exceptionally displeased with the Congress,” Hart said. “It is [its] lowest set of numbers since May of 1994,” the year when congressional Republicans defeated their Democratic counterparts in the midterm elections to take control of both the House and Senate. According to this poll, by 47 percent to 40 percent the public says it would prefer Democrats controlling Congress after the 2006 elections.
Congress has wrong priorities
McInturff, the GOP pollster, points out that Americans are upset with Congress focusing on the battle over judges, Social Security, trying to restore Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube and the ethical troubles surrounding their members, including Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, instead of focusing on the economy, gas prices and health care.
“There are some core day-to-day issues that they don’t see being addressed,” he said. “The people want us to head in a different direction and hear different things.”
Still, McInturff argues, it’s much too early to predict that the Democrats will overtake the Republicans in the 2006 elections. “There is a difference between dissatisfaction and being a viable [replacement]. And we have a long way to go to 2006,” he said.
The survey, which polled 1,005 adults from May 12-16 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, also has some troubling findings for President Bush. Just 20 percent of those polled say the economy has gotten better over the past 12 months, an 11- point decline since January; 51 percent believe that removing Saddam Hussein from power was not worth the cost and casualties of that war; and only 36 percent support Bush’s plan to allow workers to invest their Social Security contributions in the stock market.
Most don't support blanket approval for judges
That Social Security figure, which is virtually unchanged from April, is significant because it suggests that Bush hasn’t moved the country any closer to supporting private accounts despite his months-long campaign for them.
Regarding the contentious debate over Bush’s judicial nominees, just 34 percent say the Senate should generally confirm the president’s judicial picks as long as they are honest and competent, while 56 percent argue that the Senate should make its own decision about the fitness of each nominee to serve.
Overall, according to the NBC/Journal poll, 52 percent believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction, while 35 percent think it’s on the right track.
All of these findings, Hart says, are signs of an angry electorate. “If you are a member of Congress and you got the poll back, you better be looking over your shoulder,” he said. “The masses are not happy.”
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