RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
Here's a sign of how much damage the Republican Party has suffered this year: more than a month after their election defeat, the party lags far behind Democrats with the public. That's a key finding of this year's final NPR poll. We bring together a pollster from each party and put them to work. And they've given their latest findings to NPR National Political Correspondent Mara Liasson.
MARA LIASSON: Some elections are like pressure valves. Voters let off steam, scald the party they're mad at, and get over it. But that's not the case in 2006. Our survey says voters are still angry at the Republicans. Here's the Democratic half of our polling team, Stan Greenberg.
STAN GREENBERG: We have a thermometer measure here, which asks people to rate the parties on a 0-100 scale. The Democrats have a positive thermometer rating, and it's far above the Republicans. It's about nine degrees above the Republicans, which is one of the biggest gaps we've seen.
LIASSON: Democrats get a 53 percent rating, Republicans only 44. And in another measure of voters' attitudes towards the parties, Greenberg and Bolger asked if the 2008 presidential election were held today, would you vote Republican or Democrat? Forty-six percent chose the generic Democratic candidate. Only 28 percent chose the Republican. And that worries our Republican half, Glen Bolger.
GLEN BOLGER: I would have thought that instead of eighteen points, the Democrats might have a nine or 10-point lead. So eighteen is very significant and kind of underscores how much Republicans have to claw our way back into the trust of the public.
LIASSON: Mary Walker(ph), a graphic artist in Chicago, is one voter who is angry at the party she usually supports.
Ms. MARY WALKER (Chicago): I guess I'm more irritated lately that Republicans are spending so much time with issues like gay marriage. It doesn't belong in politics.
LIASSON: What are the issues that you do want them spending time on?
Ms. WALKER: I don't want to be eating cat food when I'm 60. I'd like them to iron out a plan for affordable health care. I'd like to see something done with Social Security. More long-term issues, not social issues.
LIASSON: Walker has had enough of partisan gridlock. She wants Democrats and Republicans to compromise. So do Gene Crabtree(ph) and Geoffrey Sainseer(ph).
Mr. GENE CRABTREE: They need to work together, and they're not doing that.
Mr. GEOFFREY SAINSEER: I'd like to see both parties unite and get some things done for the good of the country.
LIASSON: Stan Greenberg says it's obvious from the survey that the new Democratic Congress is on probation.
GREENBERG: A lot depends on how the Democrats use this moment. The voters are also clear in this poll, they don't want the Democrats coming in and saying, this is our agenda, this is our way, we control House and Senate so we now want you to enact our agenda. What they say is, compromise, work together, cooperate to get things done, work with the Republicans in order to achieve changes.
LIASSON: But it's not just Democrats who face challenges, it could be a lot harder for the president to count on the support of Republicans in Congress. In our poll, the president's approval rating is still around 40 percent, with 57 percent disapproving. But, says, Glen Bolger…
BOLGER: What's more problematic in these data is that his strong approval is 17 and his strong disapproval is 45. So that's nearly a three to one intensity disapproval rating, and that puts a lot of pressure on individual Republican members of Congress to say, well look, we can either stand with the president or we need to show some levels of independence.
LIASSON: The biggest issue facing the president and his party is, of course, Iraq. In our survey, 68 percent say they want to begin bringing troops home during the first half of next year. That includes Harold Brew(ph), a retired engineer from Port Allen, Louisiana.
Mr. HAROLD BREW (Port Allen, Louisiana): I'm about ready to bring them home. I was for the war when I thought we were fighting for a cause and had a chance of doing some good, but right now I think we're wasting time and causing people to get killed.
LIASSON: Brew, like 44 percent of those surveyed, thinks bringing U.S. troops home in the next six months will make Iraq less stable, but he wants to do it anyway.
Mr. BREW: Do you think it could get any more unstable than it is right now? I'd say that's about my answer. I don't think we can help them.
LIASSON: Opinions like that lead Bolger to link his party's fortunes directly to the war.
BOLGER: Frankly, the best thing from this survey for Republicans is for a relatively good outcome in Iraq. And outcome means the troops out of Iraq, or most of the troops out of Iraq before the next election. Or it's going to be very, very difficult for Republicans to make any kind of gains in the House and win the presidency.
LIASSON: Bolger and Greenberg will be doing more voter surveys for NPR next year as the presidential election cycle gets underway.
Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.
INSKEEP: Now if you're wondering what the questions were in this poll, or exactly how they were worded, you can check for yourself. The questionnaire and the answers are at npr.org
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