Brian Nienaber and Celinda Lake

Often pollsters with different backgrounds look at the same data and come to different conclusions.

But that was not what happened when representatives from the Battleground Poll briefed reporters Thursday morning at a Monitor sponsored breakfast. Pollsters from both parties saw trouble ahead for Republicans in the 2006 elections.

What makes the Battleground Poll different from many others is its bipartisan nature. The poll, sponsored by George Washington University, is conducted jointly by the Tarrance Group, a Republican firm, and by Lake Research Partners, a company that serves Democratic clients.

When Tarrance Group vice president Brian Nienaber was asked about Republican prospects for retaining control of Congress, he said, "The trend here is negative ... if this continues and election day was tomorrow, I think control of both houses of Congress would be in jeopardy, not only the House but the Senate."

"It is a better day to be a Democrat than a Republican," said Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners. "The most important number to watch is Bush's job approval number," she said. "In this poll he had popped up a little bit. He had gotten to 45 percent. In the most recent public polls in the last couple of days he is back down to 40 percent, 39 percent ... if his job approval is 38 or 39 percent ... it looks like we are guaranteed to take back the House. If his job approval is 44-45 percent, [a Democratic victory] becomes in jeopardy."

The latest version of the 15-year-old Battleground Poll was conducted September 24-27 among 1,000 registered voters and has a margin of error of 3.1 percent. Given the survey's timing, it does not capture voter reaction to the House page scandal. But the scandal's effects will not be good for Republicans, both pollsters agreed.

"The three issues on which Republicans polled a clear advantage are terrorism, safeguarding America from terrorism, keeping taxes low, and protecting moral values. I think moral values is not going to be part of our tool kit anymore," Nienaber said wryly.

"I think the turnout game is a big piece of this," Lake said. She was referring to the expectation that Christian conservatives, who are a key part of the Republican party's base, may not vote in the midterm election given their disappointment with Republican Congressional leaders.

Lake also noted that time Republicans spend dealing with the scandal, "is two weeks when the president can't get his message through except on the Woodward book and it is two weeks when the Republicans can't get their message through. It feeds the desire for change in Washington and checks and balances."

Complete details on the poll can be found at: http://www.gwu.edu/~newsctr/battleground.cfm

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