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CONGRESS RECEIVES LOW MARKS FROM PUBLIC

A majority of Americans give Congress poor ratings on crime and health reform, according to an Associated Press poll in which only half the Democrats endorsed their party's continued control of Capitol Hill.

While 63 percent of Republicans polled said it would be better for the country if the GOP took over, only 49 percent of Democrats felt the country would benefit from their party staying in control.Instead, many Democrats counted themselves among the 44 percent of Americans - or 43 percent of registered voters - who said it wouldn't make much difference which party controls Con-gress.

To the bitter disappointment of President Clinton, Congress delayed action on health reform. Clinton did coax out a crime bill with an assault weapons ban, harsher prison terms and money for more police and crime prevention programs, giving some Democratic lawmakers a trophy to campaign with.

But higher satisfaction among Democrats on that issue was not enough to keep a majority of Americans polled from giving Congress a bad rating on handling crime. The breakdown was 4 percent very good, 38 percent fairly good, 23 percent fairly bad and 30 percent very bad. The rest were unsure.

On health reform, poor ratings for Congress prevailed almost equally among Republicans, Democrats and independents, with 5 percent saying very good, 29 percent fairly good, 26 percent fairly bad and 32 percent very bad.

Two percent of those polled said they trust Congress to do what is right just about always, and an additional 12 percent trust lawmakers most of the time - a trust rating down 10 points from the beginning of the current Congress.

Five percent said they almost always trust Clinton to do what is right, and 25 percent mostly trust him. That totals 30 percent, down from 52 percent the week after his inauguration and 40 percent six months into his term.

Midterm elections generally result in a loss of seats in Congress for a first-term president's party, and Clinton's lack of popularity especially hurts Democrats. They could lose their 56-44 majority in the Senate, where 35 seats are up for election Nov. 8, and at least some of their 256-178 advantage in the House, where all 435 seats are up.

Since Democrats hold the most seats, anti-incumbent sentiment only worsens their predicament. The poll found only 36 percent inclined to vote to re-elect their representative, and 37 percent inclined to vote for someone else.

The anti-incumbent respondents were more likely to be Republican than Democrat; two-thirds gave Congress a bad rating on crime or health reform; and a third said they almost never trust Congress or Clinton.

The president who promised to end legislative gridlock in Washington has found himself pleading with his own party on Capitol Hill not to be obstructionist. But only four in 10 Americans in the poll said Congress made it too hard for Clinton to put his programs into effect.

Among those over age 55, blacks and low-income Americans were most likely to see Congress as obstructionist.

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Additional Information

Associated Press Poll

The Fall Election

Q: Would it be better for the country if...

The Republicans won control of Congress?

All voters 27%

Republicans 63%

Democrats 4%

Independents 17%

...The Democrats kept control of Congress?

All voters 24%

Republicans 4%

Democrats 49%

Independents 13%

...It wouldn't make much difference

All voters 43%

Republicans 27%

Democrats 43%

Independents 59%

Source: AP national phone poll of 1,005 adults, including 774 voters, taken Aug. 26-30 by by ICR Survey Research Group of Media, Pa., part of AUS Consultants. Margin of error plus or minus 3 percentage points for voters, 6 points for political subgroups. "Don't know" omitted.