Indeed, while Bush labors with a 33 percent approval rating, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pulling in 54 percent approval (among men and women equally), with just 25 percent disapproving. Newt Gingrich, the last incoming speaker when House control switched, never saw better than 41 percent approval.
One reason: Majority support -- mainly big majorities -- for a variety of Pelosi's initiatives, including raising the minimum wage (86 percent like it), creating an independent congressional ethics commission (84 percent), having Medicare negotiate prices with drug manufacturers (79 percent), and loosening funding restrictions on stem-cell research (55 percent). In terms of popular proposals, not a bad start.
The root of Bush's problems can be summed up in three words: Iraq, Iraq and Iraq. It drives his unpopularity. Among people who oppose the war, a mere 10 percent approve of Bush's job performance; among war supporters, three-quarters approve. The correlation between attitudes on the war and on Bush is a near-perfect .98.
It was discontent with the war that fueled the Democratic takeover of Congress in November and sent Bush looking for a new strategy. His proposed solution hasn't helped: Echoing views in an ABC/Post poll after Bush addressed the nation on Iraq on Jan. 10, Americans by 65-34 percent oppose his plan for a surge of nearly 22,000 troops.
Strong disapprovers again outnumber strong approvers by nearly 3-1. In an indication of that strength of sentiment, 59 percent say Congress should try to block Bush's plan. And in a further rejection of Bush's proposal, 70 percent say he doesn't have a clear plan for handling the situation in Iraq. Even nearly four in 10 Republicans say so.
The complaint with the president's approach is its military focus at a time when most Americans have wearied of the war. Sixty-three percent say they think it's better to seek a political and diplomatic solution to the problems in Iraq; but 76 percent think Bush, instead, remains focused on a military solution.
Asked, open-ended, what's the single most important problem for Bush and Congress to deal with, 48 percent say the war, a very high level of agreement in an open-ended question. All other responses were in the single digits.
Views on Iraq are so negative that for the first time more than half of Americans, 52 percent, say the United States should withdraw its forces to avoid further U.S. casualties, even if civil order hasn't been restored. That potentially could represent a tipping point away from a sense of responsibility for the situation there.
That, in turn, reflects a glum view of both progress and likely outcomes. Just 28 percent say the war has contributed to peace and stability in the Mideast, down from a high of 51 percent a year and a half ago. Just 36 percent say it's encouraged democracy in other Arab nations, down 13 points since last summer. And while nearly half, 48 percent, think it has helped to improve the lives of the Iraqi people, that's down from a peak of 72 percent in summer 2003. About the same numbers think the war will accomplish these goals in the long term.
In another concern, 72 percent think the war in Iraq has hampered the U.S. military's ability to respond to conflicts elsewhere, and 53 percent call this a "major problem."