Poll: Weak Ratings for Bush Ahead of Speech

A weakened George W. Bush faces the nation in his fifth State of the Union address beset by war fatigue, persistent discontent on the economy and other domestic issues, ethics concerns and rising interest in Democratic alternatives in this midterm election year.

Bush's bottom-line job rating -- 42 percent of Americans approve of his work, 56 percent disapprove -- is the worst for a president entering his sixth year in office since Watergate hammered Richard Nixon. And Bush's is not a single-issue problem: More than half disapprove of his work in eight out of nine areas tested in this ABC News/Washington Post poll, from Iraq to immigration to health care.

Sampling, data collection and tabulation for this poll were done by TNS.

Some views look better for Bush. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say the country's safer now than it was before Sept. 11, 2001, in many ways the fundamental demand of his presidency. Fifty-three percent still believe the war in Iraq has improved long-term U.S. security, its most basic rationale. And the president has won himself some daylight on the issue of warrantless wiretaps; 56 percent now call them justified.

But his challenges are many. Bush's overall approval rating has failed to sustain a slight gain last month from his career lows last fall -- it's 10 points lower than a year ago, on the eve of his second inauguration.

Start of Sixth-Year Approval Ratings
  Job Approval Rating
Bush 42%
Clinton: 60%
Reagan 65%
Nixon 26%
Eisenhower 58%
Truman 45%

On Iraq, 55 percent say the war was not worth fighting and 60 percent disapprove of how Bush is handling it. On the deficit, 64 percent disapprove of his work; on health care 60 percent; on immigration 57 percent; on ethics 56 percent (see separate Jan. 27 analysis on ethics). Six in 10 say the economy's hurting. Six in 10 don't think Bush understands their problems. Fifty-three percent don't see him as honest and trustworthy.

OPPOSITION -- Bush's problems clearly benefit the opposition: Americans -- by a 16-point margin, 51 percent to 35 percent -- now say the country should go in the direction in which the Democrats want to lead, rather than follow Bush. That's a 10-point drop for the president from a year ago, and the Democrats' first head-to-head majority of his presidency.

The Republican Party is feeling the pinch as well. The Democrats lead them by 14 points, 51 percent to 37 percent, in trust to handle the nation's main problems, the first Democratic majority on this question since 1992. And the Democrats hold a 16-point lead in 2006 congressional election preferences, 54 percent to 38 percent among registered voters, their best since 1984.

Independents -- quintessential swing voters -- prefer the Democrats' direction over Bush's by 51 percent to 27 percent, and favor the Democrat over the Republican in congressional races by 54 percent to 31 percent (the latter result is among independents who're registered to vote.).

Whether this shifts many seats in the elections 10 months off is far from assured. Not only are the powers of incumbency immense, there's also no broad anti-incumbency sentiment in the country; indeed 64 percent approve of their own representative's work.

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