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Analysis and perspective about what's happening in the political realm.

Closing the Gap

A new Gallup/USA Today poll indicates the advantage Democrats seem to have over Republicans this November is closing fast.

The survey found a 47/45 split among respondents when asked if they would choose a Democrat or Republican this November. That's the closest the two parties have polled in more than a year, according to most recent congressional matchups.

Much has been made about anti-Republican sentiment in the country, leading some candidates to try to distance themselves from the national party. With Congress out of session and President Bush largely staying out of headlines, it isn't clear what could have happened to change Americans' minds between now and just a few weeks ago, when Gallup tracked a 9-point gap favoring Democrats. Other recent polls -- from Harris, Newsweek and Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg -- have shown a double-digit advantage for the minority party.

Perhaps it can be chalked up to dissatisfaction giving way to apathy. Enthusiasm about casting a ballot seems to have dropped dramatically in the new survey: Just 39 percent said they are more eager to vote in the upcoming election than in previous elections, an 11-point decline from June. The number of respondents who said they are less excited about voting ticked up 7 points to 43 percent -- despite the fact that voters in Connecticut, Georgia and Alaska have turned out to depose incumbents.

Terrorism: The Ripple Effect

Osama bin Laden still looms large in Americans' collective consciousness, but a new poll suggests most Americans aren't sure whether a sharper focus on catching the leader of al-Qaida would have guaranteed his demise.

CNN pollsters asked respondents if forgoing the war in Iraq would have contributed to bin Laden's downfall. Fifty-one percent said that even without the war, it wasn't too likely or not likely at all that he would have been captured or killed by now; 47 percent, however, said it was very or somewhat likely that he would have been.

And a CBS News/New York Times poll shows some respondents questioning the Bush administration's ability to strike a balance between international hot spots. A 46-percent plurality said officials are focused too much on the war in Iraq and not enough on terrorists elsewhere in the world. Forty-two percent said the division is about right, and just 5 percent said too much attention has been paid to other spots around the globe. Forty-four percent said they saw the Iraq war as part of the war on terrorism, and half said they did not. The Iraq war and war on terrorism were separated out in a list of six issues, and a slight plurality (24 percent) picked fighting terrorism as the most important issue "for political leaders to concentrate on right now." The war in Iraq was right behind with 22 percent.

The recent clash between Israel and Hezbollah was last on the list, with 6 percent -- maybe because of a pervasive sense of hopelessness about the region's future. Seven in 10 said they don't think a time would ever come when Israel and its Arab neighbors will be able to live peacefully together, and a majority said the United States doesn't have a responsibility to try to resolve the conflict.

But Gallup/USA Today respondents weren't opposed to the idea of limited U.S. involvement. Fifty-six percent said the United Nations should take a leading role in developing a peace agreement between Israel and Hezbollah, but that the United States should stay involved. Fourteen percent said their country should take a leading role, and about three in 10 said they wanted the U.S. government to stay out of it entirely.

A Stabilized Summer Economy

At a time when many American families are vacationing -- and perhaps taking a break from their pocketbook concerns -- ABC News/Washington Post pollsters are finding little variation in their weekly consumer-confidence survey results.

In this week's poll, Americans' positive feelings about the state of the national economy and their personal finances remained virtually unchanged from last week at 37 percent and 59 percent, respectively. And, like last week, only a third of respondents in the latest poll rate the current buying climate favorably.

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