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Clinton Victory Seems Certain, But Battle for Congress Rages

By Ronald Brownstein
Los Angeles Times

With just one week until Election Day, voters appear poised to present President Clinton with a decisive victory but remain deeply divided in the battle for control of Congress, a new national Los Angeles Times poll has found.

Compared to the last national Times survey in early October, the new poll shows the GOP position strengthening in the struggle for Congress, even as GOP nominee Bob Dole's standing further deteriorates against Clinton.

With more than 80 percent of likely voters saying they have now firmly settled on their choice in the presidential race, the survey shows Clinton leading Dole by 51 percent to 34 percent, with Reform Party candidate Ross Perot trailing at 12 percent. That's a measurable turn up from Clinton's 12 percentage point lead in the Times poll in early October.

But Democrats now hold only a 4 percentage point margin over Republicans when likely voters are asked which party they will support for Congress - a drop since earlier this month. Indeed, even as Republicans launch a new advertising blitz meant to discourage Americans from giving Democrats unified control of government, the survey already finds a slight decline in the percentage of voters who want to see a Democratic Congress elected if Clinton wins.

Dole's arguments against Clinton seem to be facing much stiffer headwinds. With Dole and Perot now relentlessly assailing Clinton's ethics, the survey does find a substantial minority of voters uneasy about the president's honesty and integrity. And a 52 percent majority of voters say Clinton should "unequivocally" rule out pardoning Susan McDougal and other figures convicted in the Whitewater case - as the president has staunchly refused to do.

But the survey also makes clear that Clinton is benefiting from an "everybody does it" attitude among many voters. Only about four-in-10 voters say Clinton is less ethical than Dole. Roughly an equal number say Clinton is just as ethical as Dole, and another one-in-six say the president's ethics are superior to his rival's. Three-in-five of those polled say Clinton is "just about as ethical as most other modern-day presidents."

Along the same line, a majority of voters said the controversy over donations from foreign companies and foreign nationals to the Democratic National Committee constitutes "politics as usual" rather than evidence of serious wrongdoing by Democrats.

The Times Poll, supervised by acting poll director Susan Pinkus, surveyed 1,626 adults, including 1,394 registered voters from Oct. 24-27; from that group a pool of 1,112 likely voters was determined. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

If the presidential race remains one-sided, the battle for Congress appears increasingly difficult to call. The poll captures ambivalent and even contradictory attitudes that make prediction hazardous.

On the one hand, voters continue to give the Republican-controlled Congress low marks: just 39 percent approve of Congress's job performance, while 55 percent disapprove. And just 39 percent of voters say that based on their record Republicans "deserve to maintain control of Congress"; 48 percent say they don't deserve continued control. By a similar 11 percentage point margin, voters say Democrats rather than Republicans can do the best job handling the country's problems.

On the other hand, the Democrats now lead Republicans only 48 percent to 44 percent when likely voters are asked which party they will support for Congress; earlier this month, Democrats held a 6 point lead.

And the percentage of voters who say they would prefer a Democratic Congress if Clinton wins re-election has dropped from 38 percent earlier this month to 31 percent; the percentage who'd prefer Republican control in that circumstance inched up from 31 percent earlier in October to 34 percent.

Among Clinton voters, 84 percent say they are certain in their choice; 15 percent say they might still vote for someone else. Reduced to a narrower base, Dole's support is actually a bit firmer than Clinton's, with 89 percent of his backers saying they are certain to vote for the Republican. Perot's position is the most tenuous, with just 59 percent of his backers saying they are certain to stick with him, and 38 percent saying they might switch.

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This story was published on Tuesday.
Volume 116, Number 54.
This story appeared on page 2.

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