One final result on Iraq shows its overriding importance on the national political scene: Asked, open-ended, for the most important problem for Bush and the Congress to address in the year ahead, 32 percent cite the war in Iraq, placing it far ahead of other mentions (the economy, 15 percent; health care, 11 percent; all others, in the single digits.)
Bush's improvement extends beyond Iraq to the U.S. campaign against terrorism, where he's back in positive territory: Fifty-six percent now approve of his work on terrorism, up eight points. This rating, the cornerstone of Bush's support, had slipped below a majority for the first time last month.
Separately, and with gasoline prices down by 88 cents a gallon from their mid-September peak, there's been an 11-point gain in positive ratings of the economy and a commensurate improvement in Bush's rating for handling it. His ratings are much lower, however, and essentially unchanged, on handling health care (37 percent approve) and immigration (just 33 percent approve, despite his recent focus on the issue).
As attention on the CIA leak investigation has eased, assessments of Bush's own honesty and trustworthiness are up by nine points, albeit just to an even split. He gets about a 50-50 split in handling ethics in government, and about the same on strong leadership -- the latter little changed, and far weaker than his norm.
On another issue under current debate, this poll finds that 56 percent of Americans think the U.S. government has a policy of using torture as part of its campaign against terrorism. Yet 64 percent call this practice unacceptable, about the same as in a May 2004 poll. Thirty-two percent see it as acceptable, rising to a high of 41 percent of Republicans.
At the same time, more Americans, 53 percent -- especially Republicans, 73 percent -- say it would be acceptable for the CIA to hold people suspected of involvement in terrorism in secret prisons in foreign countries where U.S. laws don't apply -- the so-called "black site" prisons that have been reported recently.
Some of Bush's gains come from a rallying of the faithful: His overall approval rating is up most sharply among Republicans: 87 percent approve of his job performance, up nine points (and Republican self-identification is up six points, to 33 percent of the public). Just 15 percent of Democrats approve of Bush's work overall, as do 38 percent of independents, compared with 33 percent of in November.
While highest among Republicans, a sense of progress in Iraq, in terms of establishing civil order and a democratic government, is up very substantially across party lines. A sense that the war was worth fighting is up among Republicans and independents alike (by 10 and nine points, respectively) but flat among Democrats.
War Worth Fighting