Poll: Bush Ratings Tepid, Expectations Mixed

IRAQ -- Handling Iraq is Bush's greatest task. Fifty-eight percent disapprove of his work there, matching his worst rating on the issue (set last May in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal). Fifty-five percent say the war was not worth fighting, about the same as last month, when it hit a new high. And the number who say the war has improved the long-term security of the United States -- its fundamental rationale -- has slipped beneath a majority for the first time.

Priorities, Progress and Approvals
Top Priority Approve of Bush's Work Expect Major Progress
Iraq 61%40 58
Terrorism 526170
Education 445653

43 4656
Health Care 40 4248
Social Security 35 3846
Deficit 32 3935
Immigration 20 33 39
Taxes 19 49 52
Environment 19 48 32
Reducing Partisanship 16 NA 26
Tort Reform 13 51 54

The shift in public perceptions on Iraq is striking. In April 2003, as the major fighting ended, 29 percent of Americans assigned the situation there a "highest priority" for Bush and the Congress. Today, as noted, 61 percent give it top priority -- up by 45 points among Democrats, but also by 25 points among Republicans.

There is broad support for holding the Iraqi elections scheduled for later this month -- 73 percent say they should go forward, up from 60 percent last month -- even though most, 57 percent, are skeptical these elections will produce a stable government. A chief reason for this support is that most think the elections will move the United States closer to the day U.S. forces can be withdrawn from Iraq.

It's notable -- and perhaps a concern for the administration -- how closely linked Iraq is to the president's bottom line. Among people who think the war was worth fighting, 92 percent also approve of Bush's work in office overall. Among those who think the war was not worth it, 79 percent disapprove of Bush's performance more broadly.

In one heartening result for the administration -- yet also a challenge to perform -- 58 percent of Americans expect "substantial progress" on Iraq in Bush's second term, second only to the 70 percent who expect good progress in the war on terrorism. Overall, though, of the dozen issues tested, majorities expect substantial progress in just half -- and that does not include such heavy hitters as health care and Social Security.

PRIORITIES, PROGRESS and APPROVALS -- Terrorism comes second to Iraq in public concern, with 52 percent rating it a "highest priority" issue. Next, at some distance, are education -- an issue on which Bush's rating has rebounded from something of an election-year slump -- and the economy and health care. While he's not strong on these, his approval rating on health care, at 42 percent, has inched to a career best.

Social Security and the deficit are next on the priority list; other issues a good deal lower.

It's notable that Bush gets majority approval on just three of these issues, terrorism, education and tort reform, compared with majority disapproval on six -- Iraq, the deficit, Social Security, immigration, the economy and health care. It's more of a split on three others, taxes, the environment and foreign affairs. In one other issue, his response to the South Asian tsunami disaster, Bush gets a vast 83 percent approval rating.

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