Barely one-third of Americans expect the United States to win the war in Iraq, a bleak assessment that's chasing the Bush administration into ever-deeper political disfavor.
As he struggles to find a new course, George W. Bush faces a skeptical and war-weary public: Not only do a record 70 percent disapprove of his handling of the situation in Iraq, but two-thirds also think that -- despite last week's prodding by the Iraq Study Group and his current deliberations -- that the president is unwilling to change his war policies.
Sixty-one percent now say the war was not worth fighting, a number that tops six in 10 for only the third time since the ABC News/Washington Post polls began. Driven down by that discontent, Bush's overall job approval rating stands at just 36 percent, while 62 percent disapprove -- the second-worst rating of his career and this time without soaring gasoline prices to blame.
The intensity of these negative sentiments is remarkable: A record 57 percent "strongly" disapprove of Bush's handling of Iraq, 50 percent strongly feel the war was not worth fighting and a record 49 percent strongly disapprove of his job performance overall, compared with just 18 percent who strongly approve. The strong disapproval is 16 points worse than Bill Clinton's worst, a number the former president hit just before the 1994 midterm elections. It is 15 points worse than George Bush Sr.'s worst, recorded during the economic discontent of 1992.
A year ago, 60 percent of Americans thought the United States ultimately would win the war in Iraq. Today, just 34 percent think so, a dive in confidence. Forty-six percent instead now expect to lose the war, and 11 percent expect a draw.
Views on the current situation, as opposed to expectations, are similar: Just 34 percent think the United States is winning, down 22 points from a year ago. Most instead think the country is outright losing (52 percent) or fighting to a draw (9 percent).
These views heavily impact broader sentiment. People who expect the United States to win the war are much more likely to say it's worth fighting, to approve of how Bush is handling it, and to approve of his job performance overall, a result that's significant even when controlled for political partisanship.
The Iraq Study Group's proposals offer a glimmer of light -- its key elements are broadly popular. So does the Democrats' newly won control of Congress, itself a consequence of unhappiness with the war. Americans by a wide margin, 56 percent to 32 percent, trust the Democrats more than Bush to handle Iraq policy. Two years ago, those numbers were reversed. A 20-point Bush advantage in trust on Iraq after the 2004 election is now a 24-point deficit.
Part of Bush's problem in Iraq is apparently on the ground: Just three in 10 Americans now say the United States is making significant progress restoring civil order there, down 17 points since June. Eighty-six percent say Iraq either is in a civil war or close to it.
Another of the administration's problems is its own credibility: 52 percent think it intentionally misled the American public in making the case for war. Indeed, 53 percent favor congressional hearings into how the administration handled prewar intelligence and war planning. About as many favor hearings into surveillance and the treatment of prisoners in the broader U.S. campaign against terrorism.