This election, according to the public, is definitely not about President Clinton. It is about Congress, according to the latest CBS News-New York Times poll.
While there is clear dissatisfaction with congressional performance this year, most Americans feel positive about their own representative, and only one in four says things would be better if all new people were elected this year.
If the congressional election were held today and all registered voters went to the polls, the Democrats would have a clear lead in the vote for U.S. House of Representatives.
But all registered voters don't go to the polls in an off-year election, and the outcome of such a mid-term election depends heavily on who turns out to vote.
Among those who say they will definitely vote, and who voted in 1994, the last off-year election, the overall House vote is close. Fifty percent would vote or lean towards voting for the Republican candidate in their district; 47 percent lean towards the Democrat.
But for many of these voters, how they vote will have little impact on the outcome because nearly one in five House districts has only one major-party candidate running, and in most of those cases, that candidate is a Republican. In contested districts (where voters have a choice between candidates of both parties), among the more likely voters, preference is evenly divided.
Republicans gain an edge if the potential voting pool is restricted even further to those who are paying attention to the campaign. Then, 52 percent would vote Republican, 44 percent would vote Democratic. Using this further restriction in contested districts the Republican lead would be 51 percent to 46 percent.
When asked about the impact of Mr. Clinton on their House vote, only 36 percent of registered voters say the president will be a factor. Moreover, only 29 percent claim the Clinton-Lewinsky matter will affect their vote.
Will The Clinton Controversy Influence Your Vote?
But a majority - 51 percent - says Republican control of Congress will matter in their House vote next week, though neither party has a clear lead among those who care about any of these three factors.
But there are many who would like to keep the balance of power the way it is. Overall, 46 percent say they would prefer a Republican Congress in order to limit Mr. Clinton's power, while 42 percent say they would prefer a Democratic Congress in order to increase his power.
CONGRESS Vs. MEMBER OF CONGRESS
As always, Americans feel better about their own congressional representative than they do about Congress in general. But while most measures indicate that this Republican-controlled Congress has a more positive image than the Democratic-controlled Congress did in 1994 - when more than 30 incumbents were defeated - there are a few indications that could be cause for concern.
Overall, 41 percent approve of the way Congress is handling its job. 64 percent approve of their own member of Congress's job performance. Twenty-four percent think most members of Congress have done a good enough job to deserve re-election. Forty-seven percent say this about their own representative. And just 26 percent think government would work better if all new people were elected. That is a lower percentage than said this in 1994 or 1992. And all of those percentages are more positive now than they were in the fall of 1994.
The ominous signs are in evaluating performance. Half the public say this Congress has accomplished less in the last two years than it usually does - a very different assessment than the public gave Congress two years ago and close to its negative assessment of the 1994 Congress.
Do You Approve of Congress' Performance?
The Democrats outscore the Republicans when it comes to many campaign issues this fall, including health care, Social Security and Medicare, understanding the problems of families, and education.
Republicans lead on ethical standards and upholding family values and to a lesser degree on crime. On one usual Republican issue, however, Democrats are holding their own. When asked which party is more likely to reduce taxes, 40 percent say it's the Republican Party. But the same percentage, 40 percent, think the Democrats would.
The gains recorded earlier this year in the public's assessment of House Speaker Newt Gingrich have disappeared. Forty-three percent have an unfavorable opinion of Gingrich. This is his highest unfavorable percentage since early 1997, when the House Ethics Committee was investigating Gingrich.
Another good sign for incumbents is that a majority of the public (51 percent) thinks the country is headed in the right direction. Forty-two percent think it's on the wrong track.
Is The Country Headed In The Right Direction?
The chief incumbent, President Clinton, continues to get high approval ratings: 65 percent of the public approves of the way he is doing his job; the same percentage approve of the way he is handling foreign policy; and 74 percent approve of the way he is handling the economy. (The economy continues to be viewed as in good condition by 84 percent of the public.)
Sixty-eight percent say Clinton has strong qualities of leadership, matching his highest score ever. And while 36 percent have an unfavorable view of the President, more (44 percent) view him favorably.
TURNING AGAINST IMPEACHMENT?
Support has shrunk among the overall public for Mr. Clinton's resignation, for his removal from office, or even for the continuation of the House inquiry. When asked what Congress should do now, only 26 percent say Congress should go ahead with the impeachment inquiry as scheduled. Thrity-three percent favor a compromise like censure or a monetary fine - and 39 percent would simply drop the matter entirely.
This apparent desire to end the process can be seen in other questions as well. Only 23 percent -- the lowest figure ever -- say it would be better for the country is Bill Clinton resigned from office. Only 30 percent say the charges against Clinton are serious enough to warrant his being impeached and removed from office. Just half want him censured.
Approval of the way the House Judiciary Committee is handling the inquiry has also dropped. More than twice as many disapprove (58 percent) as approve (27 percent). Nearly three in four say the inquiry is mostly about politics, NOT the investigation of possible crimes.
However, there is evidence in this survey that members of Congress may have heard a slightly different message from those who have contacted them about the matter. 13 percent of respondents say they have communicated their views on impeachment and the scandal to a member of Congress or to the news media.
Those who have done this are more supportive of impeachment than the general public. 42 percent of those who have tried to communicate their views say the charges do warrant impeachment and removal from office, compared with 30 percent overall.
There are more people who call themselves Democrats than call themselves Republicans in this country. But Republicans are more likely to say they will definitely vote, while more Democrats describe their voting intentions as "probable".
Republicans are also more attentive to the campaign. This is due in part to the fact that Republicans tend to be somewhat more educated and have higher incomes.
In fact, if unregistered adults did vote, they would give the Democrats a 15-point lead in the Congressional vote. Foty-five percent would vote for the Democratic candidate for U.S. House in their district, 30 percent for the Republican. But 20 percent of these unregistered adults either have no preference or know they wouldn't vote.
Non-voters admit they're not voting mostly because they're not registered or are ineligible to vote. About one in four gives a political reason: that they don't like the candidates or politicians in general; they don't think voting matters; or they just aren't interested. But most of those who aren't registered give personal, not political, reasons for it: they've recently moved, missed the deadline, or aren't eligible.
This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1,118 adults, interviewed by telephone October 26-28, 1998. The error due o sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the entire sample and on the sample of 956 registered voters. The sampling error for results based on the 485 more likely voter sample is plus or minus five percentage points.