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Americans Stay Loyal to Parties Despite Recent Events

Less than five weeks before the midterm elections, polls suggest that events such as the war in Iraq and the scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., are not affecting people's party affiliation, though many say the developments will affect how they vote. Two experts discuss the factors at play.

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    What impact could the Mark Foley scandal have on the midterm elections? The national polls so far are ambiguous on that point.

    A survey by the Pew Research Center, which ended this past Tuesday, compared voters' overall party preferences in the eight days before and the five days after Congressman Foley's resignation. Before he resigned, 51 percent said they would vote Democratic, while 38 percent would vote Republican. After the resignation, there was no real change: 50 percent said they would vote Democratic, 37 percent would vote Republican.

    But an Associated Press poll taken this past Monday through Wednesday suggested some potential impact. Nearly half — 48 percent — said recent disclosures of corruption and scandal in Congress would be very or extremely important to the way they vote. And another 16 percent said moderately important.

    But this poll, too, found no change in party preferences between mid-September and now.

    There has been a shift in the Pew poll on what 53 percent of voters say is the most important national issue: Iraq. The public assessment has grown gloomier. In early September, 48 percent said the U.S. military effort was not going well. In the more recent poll, 58 percent felt that way.

    And the Pew poll also found that a 47 percent plurality now believes the war in Iraq is hurting the war on terror. In June, a plurality of voters thought it was helping the war on terror.

    For more on the voters' state of mind, we turn to Andy Kohut, director of the Pew Center for the People and the Press, and John Mercurio, senior editor of The Hotline, National Journal's daily briefing on politics.

    Welcome, gentlemen.

    So, Andy, let's start with the Foley scandal. What do you make of these polls? How do you interpret them? Does it mean it's too soon to tell or that, in fact, Republicans aren't going to suffer from this?

    ANDREW KOHUT, Pew Center for the People and the Press: Well, it's almost a situation where the Republicans are so low this hasn't driven their numbers even lower. It's almost a scary situation for the Republicans, because it shows how locked in these numbers have been. They haven't changed all year.

    And recently, we saw terrorism rise up in the public's consciousness, we saw gasoline prices go down, things that should help the Republicans. Those positive things didn't help the Republicans, and this very negative thing didn't help the Republicans.

    The Republicans have a big challenge ahead, and this is certainly going to get in the way of getting their message out and might disillusion voters, disillusion their base, but certainly the immediate impact isn't some big deleterious plunge in the polls.