Public opinion polls show Americans are increasingly frustrated with the job members of Congress are doing, less than three weeks before the November 7 mid-term legislative elections. The latest numbers are also another blow to Republicans in particular as they fight to maintain control of Congress, and try to limit the damage from ethics controversies.
In a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 75 percent of those surveyed disapprove of how lawmakers are doing their job, versus only 16 percent approval. A Gallup poll has a 71 to 23 percent margin on the same question.
Despite the overwhelming picture these paint of Congress as a whole, the numbers bring more bad news for Republicans when it comes to specific job approval ratings.
Only 36 percent of those surveyed in a CNN poll said the policies of Republicans are moving the country in the right direction, with 53 percent favoring Democrats.
Since the beginning of October, the NBC/Wall Street Journal survey shows a four percentage point increase in the number of respondents saying Democrats should control Congress after the November 7th election, with Democrats favored 52 to 37 percent.
Interesting results also emerge from polls attempting to measure the impact of the scandal involving former Republican Congressman Mark Foley, who resigned after the revelation of sexually explicit email and other messages he had sent to teenage male congressional interns.
Many disapprove of how Republican leaders handled the affair, with polls reflecting a belief Republicans initially tried to cover up the matter and are generally weak when it comes to ethical standards.
However, one earlier CNN poll shows 65 percent saying the Foley scandal would have no effect on chances they would vote Republican, versus 27 percent responding in the affirmative.
And the Foley scandal and ethical issues still rank below terrorism, the war in Iraq, the economy and North Korea in numerous polls ahead of the election.
Nevertheless, Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch says public confidence in Congress has plummeted in response not only to the Foley matter, but the Abramoff lobbying scandal and other controversies. "These are enormous scandals. They are corrosive. They undermine the government's ability to function, and they undermine the public's trust in Congress," he said.
Republicans are in a difficult spot as a congressional ethics panel continues its inquiry into how they responded to the Foley matter.
If the committee finds that House leaders acted appropriately, Republicans may get a boost. Failure to issue a report before November 7th, or negative findings, would further hurt Republicans.
On Thursday, the bipartisan panel heard from two key witnesses - Jeff Trandahl, the former House Clerk, and Republican leader John Boehner, who asserts the Foley matter is not effecting Republican candidates. "It does not appear to be affecting any of our races in any way. I think most Americans care about how much they are paying in taxes, what we have done on border security, and most importantly what we are doing to make sure that our country is safe from attacks from terrorists," Boehner said.
As that indicates, Republicans would like to turn public attention away from the Foley scandal, while warning voters what they might expect if they vote for Democrats.
But most political analysts see little light in the tunnel at this stage for Republicans.
Charles Hurt of the Washington Times says the Foley scandal may have alienated conservatives Republicans need to remain in power on Capitol Hill. "In an election like this one where the one thing I think everyone aggress upon is that we are looking at a one or two seat, a handful of people making the difference in the majorities both in the House and the Senate, you throw one or two or three seats one way or the other and you change power in Washington in November," he said.
Appearing at the same panel discussion in Washington, Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution cautions corruption and ethics are a risky issue for Democrats as well. "These are not about one party. There is no party that has a monopoly on corruption. These are not Democrat or Republican, these are Democrat and Republican," he said.
As they endure the Foley scandal and pessimistic polling numbers, Republicans moved quickly this week to take advantage of recent economic news, with the key Dow Jones Industrials closing above 12-thousand for the first time.
Democrats responded by pointing to record deficits and national debt under Republicans, and gained additional ammunition from more bad news from Iraq, as they continue to hammer away on congressional ethics.