Democrats Lose Their Edge


There are real concerns about what lies ahead for Iraq and the United States alike. If the United States withdraws without civil order first being restored, seven in 10 Americans see any of three possibilities as at least somewhat likely: Full-scale civil war, parts of Iraq becoming a base of operations for terrorists targeting the United States and parts of Iraq falling under Iranian control.

Four in 10 see the first two outcomes as "very" likely, and a third say the same of the third. People who see any of these as very likely are much more apt than others to oppose any decrease in U.S. forces in Iraq.

As noted, other arguments raised by Bush are less persuasive. Fewer than half believe the war has contributed to the long-term security of the United States -- 44 percent in this poll, a new low. Fewer, 37 percent, believe the United States must win in Iraq in order for the broader U.S. campaign against terrorism to succeed. And fewer still, 23 percent, think withdrawing from Iraq will do more to increase the risk of a terrorist attack against the United States than remaining there.

Withdraw? -- What to do is the open question. Fifty-five percent want U.S. forces decreased -- it's been about there for a year and a half -- but just 15 percent support their immediate withdrawal. Nineteen percent would increase U.S. forces -- as many as would pull them out immediately.

The combination of these two sentiments -- deep unhappiness with the situation, and lack of consensus on what to do about it -- is what's driving broader discontent with Bush, with the Republicans in Washington and now with the Democrats as well.

Toll -- The toll of this discontent is unmistakable. Bush has not seen majority approval in any ABC/Post poll since January 2005; in presidential polling back to the late 1930s, only President Truman stayed so low for a longer period of time. And Americans are nearly three times as likely to "strongly" disapprove of Bush's job performance (46 percent) as to strongly approve (17 percent).

It's even longer -- September 2004 -- since a majority has said the war in Iraq was worth fighting. The two -- views on the war and Bush's job approval rating -- correlate very highly, at 0.9, where 0 is no correlation and 1 is complete congruence.

Overall just 31 percent approve of Bush's handling of the war in Iraq. And the public's negativity has overtaken Bush's other ratings as well, most notably on his cornerstone issue -- the one that got him re-elected -- handling the U.S. campaign against terrorism. Just 44 percent now approve, matching his career low.

Indeed a narrow majority (now 52 percent) has disapproved of Bush's handling of terrorism steadily since last October, and, since December, more have picked the Democrats than picked Bush to handle it. As in other measures, though, slightly fewer now pick the Democrats (46 percent) than did earlier this year (52 percent in February).

Separate damage for Bush has come on the subject of immigration: With his reform package on the table, his approval rating for handling immigration has plummeted among Republicans, from 61 percent in April to 45 percent now. See separate analysis here.

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