Sunday, August 20, 2006

Voters are said to be in a sour, anti-Republican mood this year, but some polls have contradictory findings that indicate voters aren’t thrilled with the Democrats either and could change their minds by Election Day.

The latest right track/wrong track survey by independent pollster John Zogby finds that only 34 percent of likely voters think “the United States is going in the right direction, while 59 percent said the country is on the wrong track.”

That finding in a national survey conducted from Aug. 11 to 15, is in line with most other polls that signal Republican losses in the midterm congressional elections, campaign analysts say.

An Associated Press-Ipsos poll of 1,001 Americans, including 813 registered voters, conducted last week found that 71 percent think the country is on the wrong track, compared with only 26 percent who say it’s going in the right direction.

This year’s primary results, where three congressional incumbents were dumped by the voters, “combined with Congress’s abysmal job-approval ratings and extremely high ‘wrong-track’ numbers — indicate a very volatile, turbulent election year, the kind that incumbents hate for good reason,” election forecaster Charlie Cook writes in the National Journal.

But an earlier poll of 1,047 Americans conducted for CNN by Opinion Research Corporation from Aug. 2 to 3 drew a dramatically different response when it asked people, “How well are things going in the country today?”

A combined 55 percent said things were going “fairly well” (47 percent) or “very well” (8 percent), compared with those who said “pretty badly” (29 percent) or “very badly” (15 percent).

Keating Holland, CNN’s polling director, said the question is fundamentally different from the right track/wrong track that other pollsters ask, but he acknowledged that “it is a measurement of how well Americans think things are going in the country today.”

“Different questions get different answers,” he said.

Other pollsters are finding that no matter how negative voters are about the Republicans who control both houses of Congress, less than a majority think the Democrats would do a better job of governing. Moreover, many voters who say they will vote for a Democrat in November also say their vote is not definite.

“Only 41 percent of Americans believe that Democratic leaders in Congress ‘would move the country in the right direction,’ ” Mark Preston, CNN’s political editor, writes on the network’s Web site. That is slightly less than the 43 percent of Americans who believe that Republican leaders in Congress ‘would move the country in the right direction.’ ”

What this means, Mr. Preston said, is that “Democrats need to do a better job of convincing voters they are better equipped than Republicans to lead the Congress.”

Pollsters say the election’s outcome will be decided by the large number of independent voters, but Mr. Zogby found that most of them still do not know how they will vote.

“Among independents, 32 percent said they prefer Democrats in November, 20 percent said they prefer Republicans and 41 percent said they were undecided,” he said.

In the meantime, despite the emphasis that TV and newspaper polls place on the so-called generic congressional vote — in which voters are asked which party they will support without naming candidates — a Newsweek poll last week found that very little knowledge went into these responses.

“Most Americans aren’t paying attention to politics yet; 68 percent of registered voters say they have only given the November elections ‘a little’ or no attention,” Newsweek said.

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