Five Years Later, 9/11 Still Resonates; Eight in 10 Say Their Outlook’s Changed

Iraq is chief among Bush's troubles: Fifty-seven percent disapprove of how he's handling the situation there, and again a very large 47 percent disapprove "strongly." Fifty-six percent say that given its costs versus benefits, the war was not worth fighting; a majority has said so continuously now since December 2004. And despite Bush's recent speeches on the subject, 61 percent say the administration doesn't have a clear plan what to do in Iraq. (On this, the Democrats in Congress fare even worse.)

The public, moreover, divides on whether the war has improved long-term U.S. security, its basic rationale: Fifty percent say it has, but 47 percent say not. And just 28 percent say it's done "a great deal" for U.S. security.

CORNERSTONE -- Bush's situation would certainly be worse were he not aided by the issue that has been the cornerstone of his presidency, his administration's response to terrorism. It's been his best issue in polls since 9/11 and the one that won him re-election. Today 53 percent approve of how he's handling terrorism -- more than half, albeit vastly diminished from its post 9/11 level, and well below his career average, 66 percent.

Crucially for Bush, as noted, 55 percent of Americans say the country is safer now than it was before the attacks five years ago. But that view is split by partisanship. While 76 percent of Republicans say the country's safer now than it was before 9/11, that falls to 50 percent of independents and just 39 percent of Democrats.

Other results also show some criticism of Bush's work on terrorism. The number of Americans who say the administration is overstating the level of threat the United States faces has more than doubled since summer 2002, albeit just to 29 percent. As many say the administration is understating the real threat, but that's dropped by 11 points.

As noted, moreover, just 38 percent now say the country is doing all it reasonably can to prevent further attacks, a new low, and down from a peak of 71 percent three weeks after 9/11. Even among the president's core support groups, Republicans, conservatives and evangelical white Protestants, no more than half say the country is doing all it can.

PERFORMANCE -- The administration receives majority positive marks on some specific anti-terrorism efforts -- preventing further attacks, improving anti-terrorism intelligence gathering and reorganizing the government to fight terrorism. But these ratings all are lower than they've been in the past, and as noted, positive ratings fall lower on two others -- winning international cooperation and breaking up al-Qaeda.

Fifty-nine percent, for instance, say the government has done an excellent or good job in improving intelligence gathering, but that's down from 72 percent in 2002. Positive ratings for reorganizing the government have dropped from 71 percent to 54 percent. Even for "preventing further terrorist attacks," positive ratings are 66 percent now, vs. a high of 80 percent in 2003.

The declines in these positive assessments have occurred mainly among Democrats and independents, with Republicans holding steadier for the administration. Notably, its rating on winning international cooperation has worsened by about 20 points among Democrats and independents alike -- while gaining 13 points among Republicans.

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