Divided government, 1996 style Polling results: 53 percent favor Clinton victory as brake on Gingrich Congress.


WHAT IS GRIDLOCK to some voters is the checks and balance system to others. Traditionally Americans have looked to Congress to curb an excess of power in the presidency. But this year, if a New York Times/CBS poll is reasonably accurate, the pressure goes the other way.

Working in President Clinton's favor is the public's supposed wariness about turning both the White House and the Congress over to the Republicans for the first time since Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1952 victory. With voters blaming Speaker Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress for two government shutdowns, the GOP in this post-primary season is at its lowest point in voter esteem in 12 years.

Thus, the big Republican victory in the 1992 congressional campaigns may have been the best thing that could have happened to Mr. Clinton's re-election prospects. But these are early days. The poll showed that despite the president's 10-point lead over Republican challenger Bob Dole, he trails the Senate majority leader in such vital categories as vision, moral values and leadership.

Senator Dole can pick and choose his issues as he conducts an unusual "Pennsylvania Avenue campaign" against Mr. Clinton. But he has a problem in Speaker Gingrich, who is still regarded as leader of the Republican Party by one third of all voters. Mr. Gingrich is keeping a comparatively low profile in deference to his 49 percent disapproval ratings. Nevertheless, 53 percent of the people polled indicated a preference for Mr. Clinton. And for what reason? As a brake on the Republican Congress!

There is a bit of whimsy in this since it has been four decades since Republicans had control of Congress -- a period that also saw Republicans ensconced in the White House for 28 of 40 years until the Clinton election. If any pattern emerges, it is a voter preference for checks and balances despite all the hand-wringing about gridlock in Washington.

Pub Date: 4/14/96

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