WASHINGTON — Democrats have taken control of Congress this month amid a wave of good feeling from the public.
A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken Friday-Sunday shows that Americans by nearly 2-to-1 want congressional Democrats, not President Bush, to have more influence over the direction the nation takes during the next year.
POLL RESULTS: Opinions on new Congress
Democratic congressional leaders get their highest rating since Bush took office in 2001; 59% of those surveyed say their policies would move the country in the right direction. Republican congressional leaders get their lowest rating: 35% endorse their approach.
"Looks like a honeymoon," says Gary Jacobson, a political scientist at the University of California at San Diego. "People can project all their hopes on to this new majority … but I wouldn't expect that kind of favorable image to keep up forever."
When Republicans took over Congress in January 1995, he notes, the early glow had faded by fall, when congressional Republicans had a budget showdown with then-President Clinton.
Half or more of those polled identify four issues as "extremely important" for the White House and Congress to deal with in 2007: Iraq, terrorism, government corruption and health care.
That's a shift from recent years. At the beginning of 2005 and 2006, terrorism and Iraq essentially were tied as the issues of highest importance to the most Americans. The war in Iraq has grown in importance each year and now has clearly moved into the top spot.
The focus on problems caused by Hurricane Katrina has ebbed. Last year 35% said Katrina issues were "extremely important;" now 28% feel that way.
And concern about corruption — not even on most lists two years ago — has risen to 52%.
The telephone survey of 1,004 adults nationwide has a margin of error of +/-3 percentage points.
At least for the moment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California can bask in a 2-to-1 favorable rating: 44% say they have a favorable impression of her, 22% an unfavorable one. When the GOP took over 12 years ago, incoming speaker Newt Gingrich was considerably more controversial. His favorable rating in December 1994 was 27%, his unfavorable 35%.
Americans express confidence that Congress will raise the minimum wage and that the economy will improve this year. They're pessimistic that political stability around the world will improve or violence in Iraq ease.
And will Bush and congressional Democrats be able to work more closely together? On that, Americans are split down the middle: 50%-50%.