WASHINGTON President George W. Bush and the U.S. Congress registered record-low approval ratings in a Reuters/Zogby poll released on Wednesday, and a new monthly index measuring the mood of Americans dipped slightly on deepening worries about the economy.
Only 29 percent of Americans gave Bush a positive grade for his job performance, below his worst Zogby poll mark of 30 percent in March. A paltry 11 percent rated Congress positively, beating the previous low of 14 percent in July.
The Reuters/Zogby Index, a new measure of the mood of the country, dropped from 100 to 98.8 in the last month on worries about the economy and fears of a recession, pollster John Zogby said.
"Since the last time we polled we have had the mortgage crisis, and we are hearing the recession word a whole lot more than we've heard it in the past," Zogby said.
"There are things that happened in the September polling that drove the number down a bit, and they are mostly economic worries," he added.
The Index, which debuts this month, combines responses to 10 questions on Americans' views about their leaders, the direction of their country and their personal situations. Polling for the Index began in July, and that month's results provide the benchmark score of 100.
A score above 100 indicates the country's mood has improved since July. A score below 100, like the one recorded in September, shows the nation's mood getting worse. The RZI, which will be released the third Wednesday of each month, had remained at 100 in August.
"The public mood is not just dark. What's darker than dark?" Zogby said. "The mood is getting ugly."
The national survey of 1,011 likely voters, taken September 13 through September 16, found barely one-quarter of Americans, or 27 percent, believe the country is headed in the right direction. Nearly 62 percent think the country is on the wrong track.
About two-thirds of Americans think the value of their homes will stay the same or drop in the next year, and about one-third expect a recession in the next year amid a housing slump and credit crunch.
The poll also found little confidence in U.S. foreign or economic policy, with 68 percent of Americans rating economic policy as just fair or poor and 73 percent calling foreign policy either fair or poor.
Most of the polling was done after a speech by Bush and testimony to Congress by the top commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, indicating the United States would make some reductions but planned to keep high troop levels in Iraq for the foreseeable future.
Zogby said continuing uncertainty about Iraq contributed to the bad public mood and helped push down ratings for Bush and the Democratic-controlled Congress.
"I think we are seeing an anti-institution mood here," he said. "Post-Katrina, and now with Iraq and the economy getting worse, people just don't have faith that anybody is solving their problems."
In the 2008 White House race, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York led the Democratic field with 35 percent. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois was second with 21 percent and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina was third with 10 percent.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden drew the support of about 3 percent each.
For Republicans, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani led the 2008 field with 26 percent, while newly minted candidate Fred Thompson, a former senator and Hollywood actor, was second with 24 percent.
Arizona Sen. John McCain was third at 13 percent and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was fourth with 7 percent.
In both parties, about 20 percent of likely voters said they had not made up their minds, leaving plenty of room for the races to shift.
The national telephone survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online here)