State of the Union: Unhappy With Bush

President Bush faces the nation this week more unpopular than any president on the eve of a State of the Union address since Richard Nixon in 1974.

Nixon was beleaguered by the Watergate scandal; for Bush, three decades later, it's the war in Iraq. With his unpopular troop surge on the table, his job rating matches the worst of his presidency: Thirty-three percent of Americans approve of his work in office while 65 percent disapprove, 2-1 negative, matching his career low last May.

Only three postwar presidents have gone lower -- Jimmy Carter, Nixon and Harry Truman. And only one has had a higher disapproval rating, Nixon.

For Bush, the bad news just starts there. Dismay over the unpopular war is dragging him down across the board, from his personal ratings to his position vis-à-vis the resurgent Democrats. It's all a remarkable comedown for a president who, shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, saw his approval rating soar to the highest for any president in polls since 1938.

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Today, by contrast, 71 percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll say the country is headed seriously off on the wrong track -- the most since budget battles led to a highly unpopular government shutdown in early 1996. Bush's war leadership clearly is the prime complaint: Sixty-four percent call the war a mistake, more than said so about Vietnam during that conflict.

The intensity of sentiment, moreover, has only grown: Fifty-one percent of Americans now "strongly" disapprove of Bush's job performance overall, a majority for the first time. Just 17 percent strongly approve -- a 3-1 negative ratio.

Through a partisan lens, three-quarters of Republicans continue to approve of Bush -- but with much diminished vigor. There are only about half as many Republicans who "strongly" approve (42 percent) as there are Democrats who strongly disapprove (76 percent). And among two of his core support groups, conservatives and evangelical white Protestants, he's at career lows in overall approval.

Attributes and Issues

On a personal level, majorities now say Bush is not a strong leader (once his claim to fame), 56 percent say he can't be trusted in a crisis (another onetime mainstay), most don't see him as honest, two-thirds don't think he understands their problems and nearly as many don't think he listens to others' views. Fifty-five percent say he has not made the country more secure, his focus since 9/11.

Bush's Personal Attributes
  Today Career High
Is a strong leader   45 %   75 %
Has made the country safer   44   65
Can be trusted in a crisis   42   65
Is honest and trustworthy   40   71
Listens to different viewpoints   36   49
Understands your problems   32   61

Politically, it's no better: Majorities disapprove of Bush's handling of the war (70 percent, tying the record), terrorism (his cornerstone) and even the economy, despite its relatively good shape. Majorities trust the Democrats more than Bush to handle each one of these. On Iraq, 60 percent prefer the Democrats; on the federal budget, 62 percent -- up nearly 30 points just since last spring.

Fifty-six percent think the Democrats, not Bush, are taking the stronger leadership role in Washington these days. And most like it that way: Fifty-seven percent think the country should go in the direction in which the Democrats in Congress want to lead; just 25 percent prefer Bush's direction. Those numbers have reversed over the last six years.


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