The controversy over Terri Schiavo has raised concerns among many Americans about the moral agenda of the Republican Party and the political power of conservative Christians, a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll finds. (Related: Poll results)
• By 55%-40%, respondents say Republicans, traditionally the party of limited government, are “trying to use the federal government to interfere with the private lives of most Americans” on moral values.
• By 53%-40%, they say Democrats, who sharply expanded government since the Depression, aren’t trying to interfere on moral issues.
Mark Rozell, a professor at George Mason University in Virginia who studies religion and politics, says the case has created a “clear backlash.”
“It’s one thing to look at religious conservatives as part of a broad coalition that makes up the Republican Party,” he says. “It’s entirely another if people think that religious conservatives are calling the shots in the Bush administration for what was a deeply personal situation.”
In the poll taken Friday and Saturday, Bush’s job-approval rating is 48%, 3 percentage points higher than in mid-March. His standing on personal characteristics such as trustworthiness remains above 50%.
Still, Americans by 53%-34% say they disapprove of Bush’s handling of the Schiavo case. Congress’ rating on Schiavo is worse: 76% disapprove, 20% approve.
By more than 2-to-1, 39%-18%, Americans say the “religious right” has too much influence in the Bush administration. That’s a change from when the question was asked in CBS News/New York Times polls taken from 2001 to 2003. Then, approximately equal numbers said conservative Christians had too much and too little influence.
It’s too early to tell if this is the beginning of a sea change. But it’s safe to say that in this climate, the Democrats stand to gain far more than the Republicans.