WASHINGTON, Oct 26: Voters strongly favor Democratic candidates over Republicans in the November 7 congressional election and harbor growing doubts about the Iraq war and the country's future, according to a Reuters/Zogby poll released today.
Two weeks before voters decide which party controls the U S Congress, Republicans trail Democrats among independents and are still struggling to shore up their base conservative supporters, the poll found.
Democrats have an 11-point edge, 44 per cent to 33 per cent, when voters are asked which party's candidate they will support, up slightly from a 9-point lead in the last Reuters/Zogby poll a month ago.
The increase is within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Independents favor Democrats by 12 points, and just 56 per cent of self-identified conservatives and 68 percent of Republicans say they will vote for the Republican candidate. About 81 percent of Democrats plan to support the Democratic candidate, the poll found.
Large majorities give President George W Bush and the Republican-led Congress negative marks for their job performance and think the country is on the wrong track.
Public dissatisfaction with Bush, the Iraq war and the country's direction has helped threaten Republican control of Congress in the election, when Democrats must pick up 15 seats in the House of Representatives and six in the Senate to claim power.
The poll found more than 19 per cent of voters are still undecided about their congressional vote. That gives Republicans an opportunity for improvement, but time is running out to change the prevailing public mood.
''There is no question Republicans are in trouble. There is also no question a lot of races remain competitive,'' pollster John Zogby said. ''But it's a big hill for Republicans to climb and it's getting very late.'' The poll found 36 per cent of voters thought Bush's job performance was excellent or good, down from 42 per cent a month ago. The job rating for Congress remained the same, with 23 per cent calling it excellent or good.
Doubts about the war and the country's future grew since the last poll in late September. The new survey found 57 per cent believe the war in Iraq is not worth the loss of lives, up from 53 per cent, and 57 per cent believe the country is on the wrong track, up slightly from 55 per cent.
FOLEY NO FACTOR
The Capitol Hill sex scandal involving Republican Rep. Mark Foley and his lewd messages to teenage male congressional assistants is unlikely to directly influence most voters, the poll found. Only 22 per cent said it was likely their vote would be affected by the scandal, while 74 per cent said it was unlikely.
Democrats are favored to do a better job on nine of 13 issues surveyed, including ethics, foreign policy and immigration.
Republicans have an 8-point edge on battling terrorism and smaller leads on taxes and stopping the global spread of nuclear weapons.
The war in Iraq has dominated the election debate, with Bush and Republicans on the defensive amid calls for a change in course. Bush defended his policy again yesterday, saying ''we cannot allow our dissatisfaction to turn into disillusionment about our purpose in this war.'' But the poll found about 50 per cent of likely voters believe U S troops should be pulled out of Iraq by the end of next year, including 15 per cent who favor an immediate withdrawal and 20 per cent who want out by mid-2007.
The survey found 41 per cent agree with the statement that troops should remain ''until the situation is stable.'' While Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has taken heavy criticism for his handling of the Iraq war, the poll found 49 per cent of voters disagree that he should be fired while 42 per cent want him out.
On North Korea's development of nuclear weapons, 56 per cent of voters do not believe the United States should act militarily to stop Pyongyang, while 35 per cent support military action.
With the holidays approaching, more than 60 per cent of voters said they would spend about the same amount of money. Nearly a quarter, 23 per cent, said they would spend less and 14 per cent plan to spend about the same.
The national poll of 1,013 likely voters was taken Friday through Monday.