WASHINGTON -- A mere six months before the 2008 presidential race enters the starting gate, neither party can boast about its popularity with the voters. The Republican brand is weakened by an unpopular war in Iraq, and recent polls tell us that congressional Democrats are losing the support of liberals and independents who are unhappy over the Democrats' political impotence in a narrowly divided Congress.
There is little, if anything, for Republicans to cheer about, as the mood of the country grows increasingly sour, largely over the war. According to Washington Post-ABC News poll reported Tuesday, 76 percent of Americans now believe "things have gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track." But the Democratic-run Congress isn't getting any medals from voters, either. The latest voter-approval scores for congressional Democrats has plunged 10 percentage points since April -- dropping from 54 percent to 44 percent in one month.
Democrats are counting on the nation's large independent-voter bloc to keep them in power next year. But that support has dwindled because of the Democrats' failure to move their agenda. Independents were evenly split over the Democrats last month, but now more than 54 percent of them disapproved of the Democrats' job performance, and just 37 percent of them approved. The shocker: Job-approval scores from liberal Democrats, the critical base of their party, fell by 18 points.
President Bush and the Republicans have nothing to write home about either, but at least the president's overall job-approval number, 35 percent, has held steady in recent months.
Democrats were losing voter confidence on another front. They came into power full of promises to get things done, but this month voters were split over what, if anything, they had accomplished so far. Forty-three percent now say the president is showing stronger leadership, versus 45 percent for the Democrats.
The Democrats' leadership deficit in Congress could have a spillover effect in the presidential elections, too.
Sen. Hillary Clinton has lengthened her lead over her chief rivals, Sen. Barack Obama and former senator John Edwards, who has fallen further behind in third place.
But Edwards appeared to be holding an edge over her in Iowa, the first caucus state in January, and some Democrats were not ready to proclaim Clinton the prohibitive favorite to win their party's nomination. "If you are not ahead in Iowa, you are not the front-runner. Somebody can always stumble," said Simon Rosenberg, president of the activist New Democrat Network. "Hillary has a lot of institutional advantages and a strong name ID, but the race is still wide open."