Only 17 percent of American voters approve of how lawmakers on Capitol Hill are doing their jobs and, given the choice, half of all respondents in an NBC poll would vote to defeat their own representative and every single member of Congress.
It's a striking finding revealing that a majority of Democrats are sour on their party even as it controls all three branches of government. The public also is sour on the nation’s direction. Nearly 6 in 10 believe the county is off on the wrong track, compared with 33 percent who think it’s headed in the right direction.
And a combined 88 percent say they’ve been personally affected by the downturn in the economy "a great deal," "quite a bit" or "just some."
"The memo is pretty simple — ‘Americans to Congress: You stink,’" says Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted the survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff.
"The public is disgusted and unhappy," Hart told NBC. "To me, this is an exceptionally important story."
Asked which one or two phrases best described their feelings about Congress, the top four responses were all negative: only interested in staying in office (37 percent), too close to special interest groups (28 percent), too partisan (19 percent), and supporting pork projects and waste (16 percent).
The bottom four responses were positive: getting things done (6 percent), looking out for the needs of average people (6 percent), care about the country (5 percent), and hard working (4 percent).
And although the poll shows the public is evenly divided, if a bit confused, over the looming healthcare vote in Congress, the GOP rapidly is gaining ground in the race to the midterm elections.
The poll shows Democrats with a three-point edge on the generic ballot: 45 percent say they prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress, while 42 percent want a GOP-controlled one.
But Democrats continue to face an enthusiasm gap. High-interest voters say they prefer a GOP-controlled Congress by 13 points, 52-39 percent, MSNBC reported.
Also in the poll, both the Democratic Party (37-43 percent) and Republican Party (31-43 percent) maintain net-negative favorable/unfavorable ratings.
Yet in perhaps the most striking findings in the survey, Republicans have made up considerable ground on the issues. Asked which party better handles health care, Democrats enjoy a nine-point advantage over Republicans (37-28 percent). That’s down from the 31-point edge they held in July 2008.
On healthcare, 46 percent of the respondents say it would be better to pass the president’s plan and make changes to the nation’s healthcare system. That’s compared with 45 percent who would prefer not to pass it and keep the system as it is now.
Forty-eight percent think Obama’s plan is a bad idea, compared with 36 percent who like it. That’s a slight (but statistically insignificant) change from January, when 31 percent said it was a good idea and 46 percent said it was a bad one.
The poll also shows that Americans are divided over how their congressman or congresswoman should vote on the healthcare bill, which is expected to reach the House floor on Friday or Saturday.
If their representative sides with Republicans to defeat the bill, 34 percent say they would be less likely to re-elect that member. But 31 percent say they would be more likely to vote for the member, and 34 percent say it makes no difference.
But what about Democrats? If their member of Congress votes with Democrats to pass the legislation, 36 percent say they would be less likely to re-elect that member, 28 percent say they would be more likely to vote for the member, and 34 percent say it makes no difference.
"There is no easy place right now in the health care debate," McInturff, the GOP pollster, told NBC.
Democratic respondents are overwhelmingly supportive of Obama’s healthcare plan — they think it’s a good idea by a 64-16 percent margin, according to the poll. Hart argues that such strong support from the base will ultimately make a "yes" vote an easier sell for Democrats who are on the fence.
The key concern for these lawmakers isn’t losing some voters in the middle, he says. "It is alienating the base."
"From my point of view, it might look like a difficult vote," Hart says. "But they don’t have a choice. The repercussions they will suffer will be huge."
But McInturff contends that — because the poll shows majorities of independents, seniors and whites are wary of the overhaul plan — the right vote for Democrats isn’t all that clear.
"That’s why it becomes such a difficult judgment for them."
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