Clinton gains, while Gingrich loses over budget fight Poll shows GOP losing good will, but Dole holding steady

THE BALTIMORE SUN

President Clinton has emerged from the federal budget standoff with his highest public ratings in nearly two years, while House Republicans, particularly Speaker Newt Gingrich, have lost much of the goodwill they enjoyed after their sweep of Congress last year, the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll shows.

Virtually every finding showed striking evidence of renewed political strength for the president: Mr. Clinton's job approval level has broken 50 percent for the first time in the Times' polling since February 1994. Americans have begun to give him more credit for a healthier economy. And they perceive Mr. Clinton as far more earnest than the Republicans in trying to find a solution to the impasse.

And in more heartening news for the president, his rebound has come at the expense of Republicans. The Democrats have, at least for now, succeeded in convincing many Americans that Republican budget remedies would carry harsh consequences for the public. Still, Sen. Bob Dole, the majority leader and leading candidate for president, appears relatively unscathed; it is Mr. Gingrich whose standing has plummeted.

Sixty-one percent of Americans say Mr. Clinton is really trying to find a solution to the budget crisis; only 43 percent say the Republicans in Congress are really trying. And 47 percent approve of the way Mr. Clinton is handling the economy, up from 41 percent in October.

One of the most significant findings is that the Republicans' long-held advantage as the party most trusted for balancing the BTC budget has dissipated. The public is evenly divided, with 41 percent trusting the Republicans in Congress and 41 percent trusting Mr. Clinton. In the poll, 1,111 adults nationwide were called Dec. 9 though Dec. 11. The polls' margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

Just a year ago, after the Republican triumph in the midterm elections, 60 percent said they trusted the Republicans more in balancing the budget and Mr. Clinton drew only 28 percent.

The reputation of Congress has, in fact, fallen close to the levels at which it stood before Democrats lost control of Congress in 1994. Twenty-six percent approve of the way Congress is handling its job; in November 1994, 20 percent approved of the way Congress, then controlled by Democrats, was handling itself.

The slide in approval for the Republican Congress has roughly paralleled Mr. Gingrich's ratings, which are the lowest since he has been speaker. Only 29 percent of Americans approve of the way Mr. Gingrich is handling his job, down from 34 percent in October.

One reason for Mr. Gingrich's declining fortunes is that many Americans are uncomfortable about the Republican agenda. Fifty-two percent say the Republicans' proposed Medicare changes would be bad for the country; 27 percent say they would be good.

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