Current sentiment may give the Democrats an opportunity, but it's one they haven't yet seized to any notable extent. For Republican candidates, meanwhile, these results suggest the safest course may be at a respectful distance from the president.
Among specific domestic issues, Social Security may best underscore Bush's difficulties. In terms of public attitudes, his assiduous sales campaign has come to naught: Sixty-two percent disapprove of his work on Social Security.
Support for a stock-market option, once the most attractive component of Bush's proposals, is stuck at about 50-50. And if establishing a stock-market option means reducing the growth of guaranteed benefits, support falls steeply, to just 27 percent.
Moreover, Americans perceive pain, but without gain, from the president's plans. Fifty-six percent think Bush's proposals would decrease the total amount of retirement income most seniors receive. Yet even more, 63 percent, do not believe the plan would improve the long-term financial stability of Social Security.
Young adults are more receptive than others to Bush's proposals; in particular, among those under 30 years old, 71 percent like the idea of a stock-market option. But even in this group, support falls to 40 percent if establishing a stock-market option required reducing the rate of growth in guaranteed benefits. And 57 percent of young adults think Bush's proposals would not improve the system's long-term finances.
Handling the retirement system isn't the only domestic issue on which Bush has trouble. Ratings of the economy have grown a bit less sour -- 44 percent positive, up seven points from April -- and most people are optimistic about the economy in the year ahead. Yet a majority, 58 percent, disapproves of how Bush is handling it, one point from his career worst in March 2004.
Most, 55 percent, also disapprove of Bush's handling of the issue of stem-cell research, an issue he has chosen to highlight recently. And on energy policy, the public divides on allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- and by 64 percent-34 percent broadly oppose building new nuclear power plants. That represents a drop in support for more nuclear plants since 2001, contrary to Bush's efforts to promote their construction.
Another result underscores the conundrum Bush faces as 9/11 grows more distant: His success in preventing another terrorist attack on U.S. soil tends to move the issue down as a public priority. Just 12 percent call it the top issue facing the country, compared with 30 percent who cite the economy; 24 percent, Iraq; 16 percent, health care; and 13 percent, Social Security.
In what's likely a related result, Americans now divide, 50 percent-46 percent, on whether, as it conducts the war on terrorism, the United States is or is not doing enough to protect the rights of American citizens. In 2002 and 2003 polls, by contrast, anywhere from 61 percent to 74 percent said it was doing enough.
Previous polling has indicated that Americans are willing to sacrifice some rights and privacy in times of national crisis, but then tend to demand an end to any such intrusions as the crisis passes. To the extent that's beginning to occur, it opens the door for further skepticism about administration policy.