Poll: U.S. Split Before State of the Union

President Bush tonight addresses a nation as split by his policies and performance as it's ever been: With one term down and one to go, precisely half of Americans approve of his performance as president while 45 percent don't, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll.

Sampling, data collection and tabulation for this poll were done by TNS.

It's far from a soaring score: At 50 percent, Bush's job approval rating is just three points above his career low (47 percent last spring and summer), 42 points below his career high (92 percent shortly after the 9/11 attacks) and 14 points below his career average.

The successful elections in Iraq may yet have an effect, especially if they contribute to improved security there; handling the situation in Iraq has been the public's top priority since the election. This poll was conducted Wednesday through Monday, with interviews both before and after the Iraq vote.

Deep partisanship is at play in Bush's ratings: While 87 percent of Republicans approve of Bush's work in office, just 14 percent of Democrats agree. But partisanship isn't new, and Bush's real challenge is that he gets just 48 percent approval from independents. At this point eight years ago, Bill Clinton's rating among independents was 13 points higher, 61 percent.


Partisan divisions aren't the only ones. Bush's approval rating in this latest survey is 11 points higher among men than among women. He does especially well with married men (62 percent approval), followed by married women, then unmarried men. As in the fall election, he's weakest among unmarried women, with just 37 percent approval.

Bush has 55 percent approval in the "red" states -- those he won in November -- compared with 43 percent in the "blue" states, won by John Kerry. Bush's rating is lower in Kerry's home region, the Northeast (39 percent), compared with elsewhere. It's 14 points worse among lower- rather than upper-income adults. And it's particularly weak among minorities: Fifty-five percent of whites approve of his work, while 30 percent of minorities (and just 17 percent of blacks) agree.

There's also a striking gap by residential area: Bush has a 60 percent approval rating from people living in rural areas (about a fifth of the population), but just 42 percent from big-city dwellers (about a sixth of all Americans).

Partisanship does inform many of these. Blacks, women, Northeasterners, lower-income Americans, city dwellers -- all the groups that like Bush least -- have among the most Democrats in their ranks.

Bush Rating
Approve Disapprove % Democrat
--- --- ---
All 50 45 34%
--- --- ---
Democrats 14 83
Independents 48 43
Republicans 87 11
--- --- ---
Men 55 40 28
Women 44 49 39
--- --- ---
Married men 62 35 27
Married women 53 40 34
Unmarried men 46 48 30
Unmarried women 37 57 44
--- --- ---
Northeast 39 55 40
West 47 47 34
South 54 41 32
Midwest 55 40 30
--- --- ---
Red states 55 40 31
Blue states 43 50 37
--- --- ---
Income <$35K 42 52 40
>$75K 56 42 31
--- --- ---
Whites 55 40 29
Non-whites 30 64 52
Blacks* 17 78 67
--- --- ---
Rural 60 32 26
Town 50 44 33
Suburb 47 50 36
Big city 42 53 41

* 1/31 and 1/16 polls combined.

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