There are several noteworthy aspects to the new Washington Post/ABC News poll released today. Almost all of them are ominous signs for Republicans:
1) A majority of voters now disapprove of the way the president is handling every issue they were asked about, including the "U.S. campaign against terrorism" (by a 47 to 50 percent margin). The percent approving of the president's approach to terrorism is the lowest since this poll began asking the question in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
2) A plurality of voters (46-38) trust Democrats more than Republicans to "do a better job handling the U.S. campaign against terrorism." That is the largest advantage, by far, that Democrats have enjoyed on this issue. In fact, Republicans have had a huge advantage in this category ever since the 9/11 attacks (the GOP advantage in October 2002, for instance, was 61 to 26 in October 2002; the following month, Democrats lost control of the Senate), and the first Democratic advantage on terrorism ever (at least for this poll) was in April 2006, when it was one point. The gap has now grown to eight points.
3) An overwhelming majority of Americans continue to disapprove of the way the President is handling Iraq (36-62). And the unpopularity of the Iraq war itself is staggering. By a margin of 59 to 39 percent, Americans answer "no" to this question: "All in all, considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States, do you think the war with Iraq was worth fighting, or not?" Not only are "antiwar" sentiments the solidly mainstream position, but those who believe that the invasion of Iraq was the right thing to do are part of an ever-shrinking minority.
4) There is a surprising evenhandedness about the Israel-Hezbollah war. Forty-six percent say that Israel and Hezbollah bear equal blame for the war (while 7 percent say Israel bears more blame, and 39 percent blame Hezbollah). And a plurality (48-47) say that Israel "is not justified in bombing Hezbollah targets located in areas where civilians may be killed or wounded" even though the question advises that "Israel says it has been bombing rocket launchers and other Hezbollah targets located in civilian areas."
Only 38 percent believe that "Israel is doing all it reasonably can do to try to avoid civilian casualties in Lebanon," while 54 percent believe it should do more. By contrast, 58 percent believe the U.S. is doing all it can to avoid civilian casualties in Iraq. Perhaps most important, even those Americans who favor the deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon overwhelmingly oppose (38-59) the inclusion of U.S. troops in such a force.
(5) Reflecting what I believe is the principal hurdle Democrats must overcome, a plurality (48-47) of Americans believe that "the Democrats ... are not offering the country a clear direction that's different from the Republicans." Given how unpopular the Republicans are, it is just inexcusable that Democrats are not aggressively distinguishing themselves from GOP policies.
This failure is primarily due to the fact that Democrats inexplicably continue to follow the chronically wrong and hopelessly fear-driven advice of their Beltway consultants -- echoed by the baseless warnings issued in the last couple of days by Marty Peretz and Cokie Roberts -- which instructs Democrats to avoid any decisive opposition to Republican policies (especially foreign policies) lest they alienate mainstream Americans (who, as this poll conclusively demonstrates, themselves have decisively rejected those very GOP policies).
(6) Finally, here is the ideological breakdown of the respondents to this poll: Only 18 percent described themselves as "liberal," while 42 percent self-identified as "moderate" and 38 percent as "conservative." It is, therefore, quite difficult to argue (or at least it ought to be) that opposition to the war in Iraq or strong disapproval of President Bush is confined to "liberal" corners.