It is clear that President Bush and Republican members of Congress are hurting politically. What is not clear is whether Democrats can convert Republican woes into major gains in the 2006 election.
A new nationwide survey by John Zogby, the guest at Friday's Monitor breakfast, found 67 percent of voters give President Bush a negative job rating. Some 62 percent of voters in the telephone survey conducted June 2-6 say the country is on the wrong track.
But when asked if Republicans deserve to retain control of Congress, only 49 percent say it is time for a Democratic takeover. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
"The Democrats have not closed the deal and it is breathtaking the degree to which the president and the Republicans in Congress have lost so much of their winning base," Zogby said. "Why am I still not ready to concede a landslide? Because there is very little in here to suggest the Democrats have closed the deal. Broadly speaking, they have made some inroads into all of these previously Republican held groups but not enough..."
In Zogby's new survey of 1028 respondents, 46 percent of self-identified conservatives gave the president a negative job rating. "Among conservatives, these are the lowest numbers we have ever seen," Zogby said. "It is privacy and it is the budget deficit and it is a war without end," conservative voters cite in explaining their stance on Mr. Bush, Zogby said.
A key event in this week of political ambiguity was Tuesday's election in California to replace imprisoned Republican Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham. Republican Brian Bilbray won, but with only 49 percent of the vote in a traditionally Republican district. And only after national Republicans pumped some $5 million into the race.
Still, the Republican candidate won. Democrat Francine Busby's 45 percent share of the vote was only slightly better than the 44 percent of the electorate John Kerry won in the 2004 election.
On a national level, the problem for Democrats is they, "don't have anything to say to anybody that matters much about anything," Zogby said.
"Democrats still are the party of the big funnel, meaning you pour it in and filter it through gay rights groups, civil rights groups, women's rights groups, unions, environmental groups, all important issues. But who in the party is talking to middle America about what middle America cares about? What does middle America care about? Number one is the war, the war is still the top issue and ...over 90 percent of those who say the war is the top issue are opposed to the war and the Democrats are tongue-tied on the war....Democrats are going to have to come up with remedies that matter to middle America, and if they don't do that you can have a reprise of '02 and '04 [elections]," Zogby said.
Zogby argues that voters are not so tired of Republican control of Congress that they will vote the party out regardless of the Democratic message. "Democrats are tongue-tied on the war. And that is a problem. They are tongue-tied in fighting the war on terrorism. It is not a great bumper sticker, we care about terrorism, too...there is nothing in [the latest survey] that tells me that "had enough" is going to be enough," the pollster said.
Zogby, who has polled for candidates of both parties and a variety of news organizations including Fox and NBC News says the president will not get a significant political boost from the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
"The events of yesterday [are] weighed against what voters are seeing as a no-exit strategy, catastrophic war. You are starting to hear people say I don't understand why we are there. I don't understand how we bring the troops home, the same sorts of things you heard in Vietnam. Views of the war are hardened and are not likely to change. And this president and his administration for the most part are [all] about Iraq."
Zogby argued that, for liberal voters, global warming is as energizing a moral issue as the gay marriage ban is for conservatives. "Not only is there a national consensus developed on global warming but the intensity is on the global warming side. It is not any more on the anti- global warming side. So Democrats have to play to those strengths...."
A focus on the environment could help former Vice President Al Gore's political fortunes, Zogby said. " This could be Nixon redux-1968-for Al Gore. This could be his moment."