An increasingly gloomy political environment has soured Americans on President Bush and Congress, scrambled the Republicans’ 2008 field, and strengthened Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton’s lead, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.
As the Iraq war drags on and Washington is embroiled in inconclusive policy debates, just 19% of Americans now say the nation is headed in the right direction. More than three times that proportion, 68%, say things in the U.S. are “off on the wrong track.” That’s approaching the most pessimistic mood in the history of the WSJ/NBC poll.
At the same time, Mr. Bush’s job approval rating has fallen to his lowest-ever level of 29%, while 66% disapprove his handling of the presidency. The telephone survey of 1,008 adults, conducted June 8 to 11 by Republican pollster Neil Newhouse and his Democratic counterpart Peter Hart, carries a margin for error of 3.1 percentage points.
The fallout from that bleak mood affects the Democratic-controlled Congress as well as the Republican president. Just 23% of Americans approve the performance of Congress, matching the finding of the Journal/NBC poll from one year ago as the Republicans then holding House and Senate majorities headed toward defeat in November mid-term elections.
But the overall climate has had different effects on the two parties’ contests for their 2008 presidential nominations. Among Republicans, front-runner Rudy Giuliani has lost ground, dropping to 29% support among rank-and-file Republicans from 33% in April. Trailing the former New York City mayor with 20% is former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, who hasn’t even formally entered the race yet.
Former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts has moved to 14%, from 12% in April, while Sen. John McCain of Arizona has dropped to 14% from 22% in April. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas draws 3%.
As the Republican presidential field has grown more unsettled, the Democratic front-runner has moved into stronger position. Sen. Clinton of New York now draws 39% of the vote, up from 36% in April, while Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois has dropped to 25% from 31%. Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina has also fallen to 15% from 20%. Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware lag behind with 4% apiece.