California voters, disappointed that Congress has been unable to change policy in Iraq, are now giving federal lawmakers their lowest approval rating of the past decade, according to a Field Poll released today.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also is taking it on the chin. Her popularity with state voters has tumbled as Democrats and independents grow impatient with her party's inability to force the White House to start to bring home U.S. troops, the poll showed.
Just 20 percent of California voters approve of Congress' performance, while 66 percent disapprove. That's worse than the 23 percent approval rating state voters gave the Republican-led Congress in May 2006 before the GOP lost its decadelong control in the November elections. It's the lowest rating for Congress since the Field Poll started asking the question in 1996.
"It's a historic low, and I think the main driver has to do with disappointment with the war," said Mark DiCamillo, who directs the poll. "The reason Congress changed hands in the last election was to try to send a signal to change the administration's policy in Iraq. To this point, the Congress has not been at all effective in that regard."
In March, two months after Democrats took power, voters appeared more optimistic: Thirty-five percent of state voters approved of Congress' performance, while an even stronger 47 percent backed the job Democratic lawmakers were doing.
That support has evaporated quickly: Now, only 33 percent of voters support the job Democrats in Congress are doing, while 54 percent disapprove.
The only consolation for Democratic lawmakers is that they aren't quite as loathed as their GOP counterparts. Only 19 percent of California voters approve of the performance of the Republican minority in Congress, while 69 percent disapprove.
Pelosi, who took office in January with great fanfare and a pledge to start bringing U.S. troops home, has seen her personal approval rating fall from a high of 48 percent in the March poll to 39 percent in the new poll.
It is mostly Democrats and independents who have grown sour. In March, 64 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of independents supported Pelosi; now just 56 percent of Democrats and 36 percent of independents back her. (GOP support for Pelosi fell slightly, from 24 to 19 percent.)
"It's primarily a fallout among Democrats and nonpartisans," DiCamillo said. "They are looking for some concrete results, and they haven't seen any changes in policy."
Pelosi insists Democrats have tried to force the White House's hand, but have been stymied by Bush's veto pen, opposition from most Republicans and the thin Democratic majorities, especially in the Senate, which make it tough even to start a debate over a timeline for withdrawal.
"People are very frustrated, and we share their frustration at the inability to end the war," Brendan Daly, Pelosi's communications director, said Thursday. "Republicans have stubbornly stuck by the president's failed stay-the-course strategy, although some of them have started to break from that message."
Daly pointed to Virginia Republican Sen. John Warner, a former chairman of the Armed Services Committee and Navy secretary, who urged Bush on Thursday to announce a small withdrawal of troops to signal to Iraqis that U.S. forces won't be there forever.
Warner became the most recent of a handful of Republican senators who have urged a troop pullout. The White House reacted coolly to Warner's statements, saying a withdrawal discussion is "inappropriate."
In a recent Field poll, 58 percent of voters said they want Congress to pass legislation requiring Bush to start pulling American troops out of Iraq this spring. But Bush has pledged to veto any timelines, and Democrats don't have the votes to override his veto.
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Anti-war activists want Democrats to refuse to pass any spending bills that continue to pay for the war effort. Democrats are split over the idea, with many fearing the consequences in Iraq and political fallout of cutting off money while troops are still fighting.
The Field Poll's results mirror the findings of national polls showing declining support for the Democratic Congress. This week, a Gallup poll found Congress' ratings the lowest since the group started asking the question in 1974 - 18 percent approval, 76 percent disapproval. It tied a low reached in 1992, when Congress was embroiled in a check-bouncing scandal that led many states to pass term-limit laws.
The Field Poll found a bright spot for California's two Democratic senators. While the approval ratings for Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer dipped slightly, they continue to receive better marks than the rest of Congress or the president.
Feinstein, who has long been among the most popular California elected officials, saw her job approval fall from 61 percent in March to 56 percent in the current poll. Boxer's support slipped from 54 to 48 percent.
DiCamillo said both senators saw their ratings spike when Democrats took power, as many state voters were excited about the possibilities of a new Congress.
"The ratings have settled back to where they historically were - which for them is not bad," he said.
The poll of 536 registered voters, conducted Aug. 3-12, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
FIELD POLL: APPROVAL RATINGS FOR CALIFORNIA LAWMAKERS
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© 2007 The San Francisco Chronicle