Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fog Hasn't Entirely Lifted from Election

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fog Hasn't Entirely Lifted from Election

Article excerpt

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON told Massachusetts Democrats this week that voters around the country were beginning to come around to their party's congressional candidates.

"The fog is beginning to clear in America," he said.

Clinton wasn't talking about Washington pollsters, however, whose gauging of the public mood and the effect it will have on next month's election has been foggy indeed.

There's a lot at stake in the midterm elections, at least from a partisan point of view. Republicans are hoping to pick up enough seats - 40 in the House and 7 in the Senate - to wrest control from Democrats. Even if the GOP makes only moderate gains, its hand will be strengthened when the next Congress meets.

So the pollsters have been out in force, spinning like crazed dervishes as they try to interpret their interviews of voters. They're putting a good face on the results, but not so good that they'll look bad if they're wrong on Nov. 8.

One thing the top Republican and Democratic pollsters agree on is that the public's opinion of Congress is lower than it's ever been, mostly due to the belief that lawmakers haven't been accomplishing much.

"Both parties have lost the confidence of the American people," asserted Stan Greenberg, the president's pollster. "It's an easy period to attack the government as incompetent," he said, with Congress as the main stooge. Last summer's wrangling over the crime bill, which most voters supported, made both parties look bad - the Democrats for not pulling together and passing it; the Republicans for trying unsuccessfully to block it.

"What they (voters) hate is partisan bickering," he said.

Republican leaders in Congress are "enormously unpopular," Greenberg said, especially Minority Whip Newt Gingrich, who got a negative reaction from twice the number of voters as those who thought of him positively. The good news for the Georgian, according to Greenberg's data, is that most people don't think of him at all; only about one-third of those interviewed knew enough about him to offer an opinion.

Richard Wirthlin, a Republican pollster, disagreed about Gingrich, who he said "is not terribly popular or terribly unpopular. …

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