Americans Doubt That the U.S. Effort in Iraq Is Improving

A fresh wave of public skepticism confronts the Bush administration on current issues ranging from the unrest in Iraq to the ports deal and privacy rights at home. And when it comes to the Hurricane Katrina response or prescription drug benefits -- don't ask.

On Iraq, President Bush's single biggest challenge, eight in 10 Americans see civil war as likely and a record 65 percent say the administration lacks a clear plan to resolve the conflict; assessments of U.S. progress have tanked in the face of the current violence.

Fifty-seven percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll say the war wasay not worth fighting, and just half say the war has improved long-term U.S. security, its basic rationale. When a president's in tough straits, the economy usually is the prime cause; Bush's case instead looks more like Lyndon Johnson's -- an unpopular war.

Nor does the administration get a break at home. In the latest controversy, not only do 70 percent oppose the administration-approved Dubai Ports World deal, but 53 percent oppose it "strongly," a remarkable (and largely bipartisan) level of sentiment. On domestic security more broadly, while it received majority support for renewal of the Patriot Act and more narrow support for warrantless wiretaps, there's been a slight negative shift on whether the administration is doing enough to protect Americans' rights in the war on terrorism. Fifty-one percent think not; that's more than half, albeit barely, for the first time.

On social policy, the new Medicare prescription drug plan began with a razz: A record 58 percent disapprove of Bush's work on the issue. (Seniors don't like it better than anyone else does.) And more, 63 percent, disapprove of the way Bush handled the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, the subject of recent critical reports. His disapproval rating on Katrina is nine points higher now than it was two weeks after the storm itself. (The president visits New Orleans and the Gulf Coast on Wednesday.)

All told, majorities disapprove of Bush's work on seven out of eight issues tested in this poll, which also included health care, ethics, international affairs and the economy. The sole exception is the way he has handled terrorism, his core strength, on which 52 percent approve -- far below his career average on this issue, 67 percent.

Bush's overall job approval rating is steady but very near his career low: Forty-one percent approve, essentially the same as in January, and a scant two points above his low last fall. Fifty-eight percent disapprove, and the intensity of sentiment remains heavily against him: While 24 percent approve "strongly" of his overall job performance, nearly twice as many, 44 percent, strongly disapprove.

Bush's personal (rather than professional) rating, while slightly less negative, is running on a similar track. Fifty-four percent have an unfavorable impression of him, a new high in ABC/Post polls, compared with 46 percent who view him favorably. And again, while 28 percent have a strongly favorable opinion of the president, 42 percent have a strongly unfavorable one. (Bush's "strongly unfavorable" score is five points below Vice President Dick Cheney's, despite the negative publicity surrounding Cheney's accidental shooting of a fellow hunter.)

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