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

Where Bush goes, the Republican-controlled Congress is also going, but faster: Sixty-two percent disapprove of the way it's doing its job, the most in ABC/Post polls in 10 years. Not only do 70 percent of Democrats disapprove, so do 54 percent of Republicans. The question, as November's midterm election moves closer, is whether this in turn fuels any significant anti-incumbent sentiment.

For now, notably, the Democrats are doing little to capitalize on the opposition's weakness, and rather have lost ground. The public divides by 42-40 percent on which party it trusts to handle the nation's main problems; that's down from a 51-37 percent Democratic advantage in late January. Independents, and particularly Independent women, have backed off from the Democrats. What's grown is general disaffection: Fourteen percent of Americans now trust neither party, up by six points.

The Democrats, similarly, have lost their edge in handling the situation in Iraq -- their seven-point advantage in January is now an even split -- and they have a much lower lead in trust to handle the economy, nine points now versus 18 points six weeks ago.

IRAQ

Iraq is a top example of the Democrats' failure to offer a strong alternative. While two-thirds say the administration lacks a clear plan for what to do there, 70 percent say the Democrats in Congress don't have a clear plan either. Even 55 percent of Democrats say their own party lacks a clear plan on Iraq.

The current unrest is a particular blow. The parliamentary elections in December had produced a sharp gain in public optimism that the United States was making progress in Iraq. The recent sectarian violence has erased those gains just as quickly.

Fifty-five percent believe the United States is not making significant progress restoring civil order in Iraq, up 19 points from its level shortly after the December elections. And while 49 percent see progress in establishing a democratic government, that, similarly, is down from 65 percent in December.

Although Republicans remain far more optimistic than Independents or (especially) Democrats, these changes are broadly based. Belief that the United States is making progress restoring civil order has fallen by 15 to 18 points across party lines. On progress establishing a democratic government in Iraq, confidence has fallen most sharply among Democrats (down 26 points) but also by 11 points among Republicans.

Moreover, not only do 87 percent of Democrats see civil war as likely in Iraq, but 81 percent of Independents and 72 percent of Republicans agree. There is still hope, however: Fewer overall, 34 percent, call civil war "very" likely. The rest call it somewhat so.

Despite these glum views on progress in Iraq, attitudes on U.S. troop commitment are little changed. As was the case in December, a narrow majority supports decreasing the level of U.S. forces in Iraq, but fewer than two in 10 support an immediate withdrawal of all troops.

Nonetheless, the views of progress in Iraq bear watching, since in this poll they strongly interact with views on troop reductions: People who see no progress are much more apt than others to call for a reduction in U.S. forces (about seven in 10 do so), and an immediate one (about three in 10).

Economy/Security

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