How low can he go?

President George W. Bush’s free fall in approval ratings by American voters means more trouble for Republicans and more hope for Democrats as the midterm election approach in November.

Richard Morin and Claudia Deane report in today’s Washington Post:

Political reversals at home and continued bad news from Iraq have dragged President Bush’s standing with the public to a new low, at the same time that Republican fortunes on Capitol Hill also are deteriorating, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The survey found that 38 percent of the public approve of the job Bush is doing, down three percentage points in the past month and his worst showing in Post-ABC polling since he became president. Sixty percent disapprove of his performance.

With less than seven months remaining before the midterm elections, Bush’s political troubles already appear to be casting a long shadow over them. Barely a third of registered voters, 35 percent, approve of the way the Republican-led Congress is doing its job — the lowest level of support in nine years.

The negative judgments about the president and the congressional majority reflect the breadth of the GOP’s difficulties and suggest that the problems of each may be mutually reinforcing. Although the numbers do not represent a precipitous decline over recent surveys, the fact that they have stayed at low levels over recent months indicates that the GOP is confronting some fundamental obstacles with public opinion rather than a patch of bad luck.

A majority of registered voters, 55 percent, say they plan to vote for the Democratic candidate in their House district, while 40 percent support the Republican candidate. That is the largest share of the electorate favoring Democrats in Post-ABC polls since the mid-1980s.

This grim news for the GOP is offset somewhat by the finding that 59 percent of voters still say they approve of their own representative. But even these numbers are weaker than in recent off-year election cycles and identical to support of congressional incumbents in June 1994 — five months before Democrats lost control of Congress to Republicans.

As Bush and the Republicans falter, Democrats have emerged as the party most Americans trust to deal with such issues as Iraq, the economy and health care. By 49 to 42 percent, Americans trust Democrats more than Republicans to do a better job of handling Iraq.

Democrats also hold a six-percentage-point advantage over the GOP (49 percent to 43 percent) as the party most trusted to handle the economy. Their lead swells to double digits on such as issues as immigration (12 points), prescription drug benefits for the elderly (28 points), health care (32 points) and dealing with corruption in Washington (25 points).

The public divides evenly on only one issue: terrorism, with 46 percent expressing more confidence in the Democrats and 45 percent trusting Republicans on a top voting concern that the GOP counts on dominating.