Americans have grown more sour on the situation in Iraq, driving down the president's ratings on the war and on terrorism more broadly, and fostering majority support for the ouster of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Fifty-six percent, a new high, now say the war in Iraq was not worth fighting, and fewer than half think the United States is making significant progress restoring civil order there. Most call Iraq unready for the election scheduled for late next month, doubt the integrity of the election process and lack confidence it'll produce a stable government.
There are political implications: Fifty-seven percent disapprove of President Bush's work on the situation, a point shy of his worst rating on Iraq, set during the Abu Ghraib scandal last spring. His approval for handling terrorism overall -- his best issue -- has dropped to 53 percent, near its low of 50 percent in June.
As for Rumsfeld, just 35 percent approve of his work -- half of what it was just before the fall of Baghdad -- and 52 percent say Bush should replace him.
Most broadly, this ABC News/Washington Post poll shows no second honeymoon for Bush after his re-election last month. The nation is as divided as ever, with Americans split, 48 percent to 49 percent, on his overall job performance -- about where it's been for most of 2004. Bush has 55 percent job approval in the "red" states he won -- compared with 40 percent, 15 points lower, in the "blue" states won by Democrat John Kerry.
President Bush's Job Approval
|One Year Ago||59||38|
|Two Years Ago||66||32|
Comparisons to past year-end polls underscore the difficulties confronting Bush in his second term. His job approval rating is 11 points lower than a year ago, and 18 points lower than two years ago. His rating on terrorism is 17 points lower than at this time last year. There's been a 17-point drop in the number of Americans who say the Iraq war was worth fighting, and a 10-point rise in the number who call U.S. casualties "unacceptable."
Handling terrorism was the issue that won Bush re-election, and it remains his best suit, albeit much less strongly than in the past. On pressing domestic issues he's weaker: Fewer than half, 46 percent, approve of his work on the economy; 38 percent on Social Security, on which he's promised bold initiatives; and 37 percent on health care. These have been essentially steady the past year.
President Bush's Performance
Intensity of sentiment is another problem for Bush: Just 27 percent approve "strongly" of his work overall, the fewest since Sept. 11, 2001, while more, 38 percent, strongly disapprove. That's the biggest margin toward strong disapproval (+11) of his presidency.
Dissatisfaction with Iraq has not produced a demand for withdrawal. Apparently ascribing to the break-it/bought-it philosophy, most Americans, 58 percent, continue to say the United States should keep its military forces in Iraq until order is restored there, even if that means further U.S. casualties.
This number has held steady since spring even as casualties have mounted, though it was higher on average in 2003. And it comes, as noted, even though seven in 10 Americans term the level of U.S. casualties in Iraq "unacceptable," up 26 points since June 2003.
Moreover, the majority's commitment to maintaining order in Iraq comes at a time of greater doubt that this goal is getting closer. Fewer than half, 44 percent, see significant U.S. progress toward restoring civil order in Iraq, down from 51 percent last summer.
The public divides, 48 percent to 44 percent, on whether there's been significant progress on another front, establishing a democratic government in Iraq. Fifty-eight percent say Iraq is not ready for the scheduled elections to be held -- and 54 percent don't think there will be honest elections with a fair and accurate vote count.
|Is Iraq ready for elections?||34%||58|
|Should they be held as scheduled?||60||34|
|Will they be honest and fair?||36||54|
|Confident they'll produce a stable government?||44||54|
However, six in 10 also say the elections should go forward despite these compunctions, likely reflecting a desire to move ahead toward restoring order and disengaging from Iraq whatever the difficulties in doing so. (Among those who say Iraq is not ready for the election, 40 percent say it should go forward nonetheless. But a split-sample test suggests that support for holding the election as scheduled is moveable: It's lower when the question is preceded by the one asking if Iraq is ready, and higher when readiness isn't raised first.)
As noted, the number of Americans who now say the war was not worth fighting is at a new high, up seven points from July. It's changed most sharply among younger adults.
In evaluating this now-majority view that the war was not worth fighting, it's notable that the public is approaching an even division on another crucial question -- whether the war did or did not contribute to long-term U.S. security.
Today 51 percent say it did, but 46 percent say it did not -- matching the closest division to date on this question. In late 2003, by contrast, the public by a 28-point margin said the war had contributed to long-term U.S. security, its fundamental rationale.
Also, just 27 percent now say the war has contributed "a great deal" to U.S. security, the fewest to date, although it's never been high, peaking at 34 percent a year ago.
Has Iraq War Contributed to Long-Term Security?
|Now||2 Years Ago|
These views do much to inform broader perspectives on the war. Among people who think it has improved U.S. security, 67 percent approve of the way Bush is handling Iraq, and as many say the war was worth fighting. Among those who don't think it's improved security, these numbers dive to 13 percent and 14 percent, respectively.
Another security-related result brings better news for the administration: A sizable majority, 69 percent, think U.S. intelligence-gathering will be improved by the new intelligence structure created by legislation Bush signed last week. But this, too, is tempered: Just 18 percent think it'll improve the situation "a great deal."
|Sampling, data collection and tabulation for this poll were done by TNS.|
Criticism of Rumsfeld is linked closely to views of the war -- those who see the level of casualties as unacceptable, for instance, are 39 points more likely to disapprove of his performance, and 34 points more apt to say he should go.
Rumsfeld gets 60 percent job approval from Republicans, but that's 33 points fewer than their approval of Bush job's performance. And Rumsfeld gets a dismal 32 percent approval rating from independents, and 21 percent from Democrats.
Nearly one-third of Republicans think he should be replaced; that rises to 52 percent of independents, and 68 percent of Democrats. And nearly half of red-state residents, 49 percent, think he should go, as do 57 percent in the blue states.
As was covered during the campaign, political allegiance can vary from poll to poll; in this survey more Americans identify themselves as Democrats (38 percent) than as Republicans (27 percent). However, political attitudes are driven by more than partisan differences alone, particularly apart from vote preferences. Adjusting the results to party ID levels across October (+3 Democrat) produces only minor shifts in overall results -- raising Bush's overall approval rating by three points, his approval on Iraq or terrorism by two, and views that the war in Iraq was worth fighting by two, still the lowest to date.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Dec. 16-19 among a random national sample of 1,004 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.
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