Washington Two weeks before midterm elections, Republicans are losing the battle for independent voters, who now strongly favor Democrats on Iraq and other major issues facing the country and overwhelmingly prefer to see them take over the House in November, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The new poll underscores how much of a drag the war threatens to be on Republican candidates in competitive races. With debate under way in Washington about possible course changes in Iraq, more Americans cite the war as the most important issue in determining their vote next month than any other issue, and those who do favor Democrats over Republicans by 76 percent to 21 percent.
Independents are poised to play a pivotal role in next month's elections because Democrats and Republicans are basically united behind candidates of their own parties. Ninety-five percent of Democrats say they will support Democratic candidates for the House while slightly fewer, 88 percent, Republicans said they plan to vote for their party's candidates.
The independent voters surveyed said they plan to support Democratic candidates over Republicans by roughly 2 to 1 - 59 percent to 31 percent - the largest margin in any Post-ABC News poll this year. Forty-five percent said it would be good if Democrats recapture the House majority while just 10 percent said it would not be. The rest said it would not matter.
The poll also found that independents are highly pessimistic about the Iraq war and the overall state of the country. Just 23 percent said the country is heading in the right direction compared to 75 percent who say things have gotten off track. Only a quarter of independents approve of the job Congress has done this year. Only a third of independents currently say the Iraq war was worth fighting. A month before the 2004 election, independents were almost evenly split on that question.
Independent voters may strongly favor Democrats, but their vote appears motivated more by dissatisfaction with Republicans than by enthusiasm for the opposition party. About half of those independents saying they plan to vote Democratic in their district said they were doing so primarily to vote against the Republican candidate rather than affirmatively in support of the Democratic candidate. Just 22 percent of independents voting for Democrats are doing so "very enthusiastically."
Among the electorate as a whole, the poll highlighted how the 2006 political climate continues to favor Democrats. President Bush's approval rating among all Americans stood at 37 percent. Two weeks ago, he was at 39 percent, and in September at 42 percent. By more than 2 to 1, Americans disapprove of the way Congress has been doing its job.
One important question that will affect the outcome of the election is who shows up to vote. More Democrats than Republicans, 32 percent versus 24 percent, say they are "very closely" following the campaign. Democrats are more likely to be very enthusiastic about voting. Independents show less enthusiasm about this election than do Democrats or Republicans.
The Post-ABC News poll findings are based on telephone interviews with 1,200 adults conducted from last Thursday through Sunday. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.