POLL: Shifting Preferences Shake GOP Race; Dem. Contest is Stable, Bush Stays Low

In a related result, just 5 percent of Americans overall say they put a great amount of weight on endorsements by entertainment figures or other celebrities. Vastly more rely heavily on the candidates' positions on the issues (65 percent), personal qualities (58 percent) and professional abilities (54 percent). Religion and spouses also are well back in importance, albeit ahead of celebrity endorsements.

BUSH/IRAQ: Then there's President Bush, inching closer to Harry Truman's record as the postwar president to linger longest without majority public support. Just 33 percent approve of Bush's job performance, matching his career low. It's been less than a majority for 35 months straight; the record was Truman's 38 months, from 1949-1952.

Bush's approval rating, depressed by the unpopular war in Iraq, has stayed remarkably flat, 33 to 36 percent in 10 ABC/Post polls the past year. In terms of intensity, strong disapprovers continue to outnumber strong approvers by a 3-1 margin.

Given reduced violence in Iraq, some views of the war have shifted, but not enough to change bottom-line attitudes. Forty-one percent believe the United States is making significant progress in Iraq, up from a low of 31 percent a year ago. But still, 61 percent say the war was not worth fighting; its strong opponents outnumber its strong supporters by 2-1 and 65 percent continue to disapprove of how Bush is handling it. He hasn't seen majority approval for handling the war since January 2004, nearly four years ago.

ELECTION: Bush's flat lines have likely helped make the 2008 race the focus of political attention, along with the fact that it's the first time since 1928 that neither the sitting president nor vice president sought his party's nomination. Seventy-two percent of Americans say they're following the contest closely, a new high in this cycle and far higher than the 45 percent number at this point in the last nonincumbert election, in 2000.

Democrats are more fired up. They're 10 points more apt than Republicans to "strongly" support a particular candidate. And given the president's long-running unpopularity, an overall decline in Republican allegiance continues. On average this year, just 25 percent of Americans have identified themselves as Republicans, down from a peak of 31 percent in 2003 and the lowest number since 1984 (when, it should be noted, Ronald Reagan was re-elected regardless, over a weak Democratic opponent).

But the sharper tone of the campaigns in recent weeks may be souring some voters. "Strong" support for candidates is down in both parties, now 44 percent, among leaned Democrats, down steadily from a peak of 63 percent in July; and 34 percent among Republicans, down from a high of 45 percent in September.

GOP CANDIDATES: In the Republican race, Giuliani has lost support particularly among men (down 14 points) and among independents, who lean toward the Republican Party (down 17 points, while both Huckabee and Romney are up by 10 points in this group).

Giuliani's also lost nine points among conservatives, and now is running about evenly with Huckabee and Romney in this group. That's Giuliani's lowest of the year among conservatives, and it compares with his 36 percent support from moderates and the few liberal Republicans. His challenge is that conservatives dominate; they account for six in 10 Republicans and Republican leaners.

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