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Broad support found in poll on Democrats' top goals for 2007

Minimum wage hike, stem cell research backed

Incoming House speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke with Speaker J. Dennis Hastert before the funeral of former president Gerald Ford at the National Cathedral yesterday. Incoming House speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke with Speaker J. Dennis Hastert before the funeral of former president Gerald Ford at the National Cathedral yesterday. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

WASHINGTON -- Two of the top goals of Democrat lawmakers -- a higher minimum wage and federal funding of embryonic stem cell research -- enjoy broad public support as the party takes control of Congress for the first time in a dozen years.

An overwhelming majority of survey respondents also support making it easier for people to buy prescription drugs from other countries, an Associated Press-AOL News poll found .

By a smaller margin, survey respondents also said they favor relaxing restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, a third issue Democrats have promised to tackle during their first 100 hours in charge.

The jury was out on the incoming House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. Most people surveyed said they do not know enough yet to have an opinion about the California Democrat who will be the first woman in that post, according to the poll.

The survey results were announced as the 110th Congress is set to convene tomorrow at noon. Voters toppled Republican majorities in both the Senate and House last November, exasperated by investigations into the ethics of GOP lawmakers and unhappy with the war in Iraq.

Democrats will hold a 233-to-202 edge in the House and will control the Senate 51 to 49.

A boost to the $5.15-an-hour federal minimum wage would be the first since 1997. Democratic leaders have proposed raising it in stages to $7.25 an hour. President Bush has said he supports the idea, along with help for small businesses.

Fully 80 percent of survey respondents said they favor an increase, too.

Support was strongest among Democrats, 91 percent, while 65 percent of Republicans said they back the idea. Women, men without college degrees, and single women all are were especially likely to favor a minimum wage increase .

Nearly 7 of 10 adults, 69 percent, said they favor the government taking steps to make it easier for people to buy prescription drugs from other countries, where some medicines cost significantly less than in the United States .

Importing prescription drugs to the United States is illegal, but the Food and Drug Administration generally does not bar individuals from bringing in small amounts for personal use. At the same time, the government has estimated that buying drugs from other countries would do little to influence what they cost in the United States .

Some 56 percent of adults said they support easing restrictions on using federal money to pay for research on embryonic stem cells. Supporters say such research could lead to treatments for everything from Parkinson's disease to spinal cord injuries. Bush and other opponents say the embryos from which the cells are extracted are human lives that should not be destroyed in the name of science.

Bush kept a promise in 2001 when he limited federally funded research to lines of embryonic stem cells that had been created by that time. Last summer, he used the first veto of his presidency to reject a bill that would have directed more federal dollars toward embryonic stem-cell research.

Democrats have pledged to reverse that outcome, setting up a possible veto showdown with the president.

Achieving the Democrats' goals could help Pelosi raise her public profile.

She is the first woman to lead a party caucus in either house of Congress -- she was elected leader of the House Democrats in 2002 -- and now will be the first female speaker, second in line to succeed the president.

Yet as much as the 10-term congresswoman has been in the news over the years and, more recently, since the Democratic election rout on Nov. 7, survey respondents said they just don't know her.

More than 5 in 10 adults, 55 percent, said they don't know enough yet about Pelosi to have an opinion of her. Those with opinions to share were split, with 22 percent viewing her favorably and 22 percent unfavorably.

The telephone survey of 1,004 adults was conducted Dec. 19-21 by Ipsos, an international public opinion research company. The margin of error was 3 percentage points.

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