The corrosive effects of the war in Iraq and a growing disconnect on political priorities have pushed George W. Bush's performance ratings -- notably on terrorism -- to among the worst of his career, casting a pall over his second term and potentially over his party's prospects ahead.
For the first time, most Americans, 55 percent, say Bush has done more to divide than to unite the country. A career-high 52 percent disapprove of his job performance overall, and, in another first, a bare majority rates him unfavorably on a personal level. Most differ with him on issues ranging from the economy and Social Security to stem-cell research and nuclear power.
Iraq is a major thorn. With discontent over U.S. casualties at a new peak, a record 58 percent say the war there was not worth fighting. Nearly two-thirds think the United States has gotten bogged down in Iraq, up 11 points since March. Forty-five percent go so far as to foresee the equivalent of another Vietnam.
Fifty-two percent, the first majority to say so, think the Iraq war has failed to improve the long-term security of the United States, its fundamental rationale. As an extension -- and perhaps most hazardously in political terms -- approval of Bush's handling of terrorism, the base of his support, has lost 11 points since January to match its low, 50 percent in June 2004 when it was pressured both by the presidential campaign and the kidnapping and slaying of American Paul Johnson in Saudi Arabia.
All these underscore a broad sense of lost promise for the president: In January, 55 percent of Americans expected Bush to do a better job in his second term than in his first. Today, vastly fewer, 30 percent, say in fact he's doing so. And even though they remain staunchly supportive, the letdown in expectations is biggest in Bush's own back yard, among Republicans.
These views are accompanied by a sense of alienation not just from the president but from both parties in Washington. Disapproval of Congress, at 54 percent, is its highest in more than six years, and six in 10 Americans say Bush and the Republicans, who control both Houses, are not making good progress in solving the nation's problems.
About as many also say neither Bush nor the Republicans are concentrating on what's important to them personally. And the Democrats in Congress barely fare better: Fifty-three percent say they're not concentrating on the right issues either.
On balance, Americans now slightly favor the Democrats over the Republicans, by 46 percent-41 percent, in trust to deal with the country's problems, the first Democratic advantage in this question, however slight, in ABC/Post polls since 9/11. Nonetheless, the Democrats seem to have capitalized only marginally at best on the current discontent. Fifty-six percent of Americans disapprove of the job performance of both parties in Congress, and both have seen their basic favorability ratings slide to about the 50-50 mark.
The impact on the still far-off 2006 mid-term elections is hardly clear. Whatever their views of Congress, Bush and the political parties, 61 percent approve of the way their own representative in Congress is handling his or her job. That is well above the low of 49 percent shortly before the earth-shaking midterms of 1994.