POLL: A New Low in Approval Starts Bush's Final Year

Beset by growing economic concerns on top of the long unpopular war in Iraq, President Bush starts the last year of his presidency with the worst approval rating of his career.

Just 32 percent of Americans now approve of the way Bush is handling his job, while 66 percent disapprove. Bush's work on the economy has likewise reached a new low. And he shows no gain on Iraq; despite reduced violence there, 64 percent say the war was not worth fighting, 2 points from its high.

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Given these complaints, 77 percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll say the country is headed off on the wrong track -- the most since the federal government shut down in a deeply unpopular budget battle in early 1996.

Three post-World War II presidents have gone lower than Bush in overall approval -- Jimmy Carter (28 percent), Richard Nixon (24 percent) and Harry Truman (22 percent). But after three straight years in the doghouse, Bush is just two months away from Truman's record of 38 months without majority approval -- far beyond any other.

Bush's ratings have stayed remarkably stable lately; he received between 33 and 36 percent approval in nine ABC/Post polls in 2007. The change in this poll, while not statistically significant, marks his first foray below one-third approval.

Intensity of sentiment, moreover, remains very heavily against the president. Fifty-one percent strongly disapprove of his work overall, while just 16 percent strongly approve -- strongly negative by better than a 3-1 ratio.

RIDE -- It's been a remarkably bumpy ride. Bush has been so low for so long it can be hard to remember that he also holds the highest approval rating on record for any president in ABC/Post polls, or Gallup polls before them, back to 1938.

That came Oct. 9, 2001, as the nation rallied together after 9/11. Bush, who'd been at 55 percent approval just before the attacks, soared to 92 percent, surpassing his father's 90 percent at the time of the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

His time in the stratosphere has boosted Bush's overall average since taking office, now 54 percent approval -- a mid-range rating, around those of Lyndon Johnson (56 percent) and Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, both 57 percent.

ECONOMY -- Economic trouble almost always damages an incumbent president, and it's been brewing for months. Consumer confidence as measured weekly by ABC News grew worse in each quarter of 2007. In November 69 percent of Americans said a recession was at least somewhat likely in the next year. And in this poll the economy has surpassed the Iraq War as the most important issue to voters in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Just 28 percent now approve of how Bush is handling the economy, down 6 points in the last month and down from 40 percent in June, before the latest economic shock -- the housing market crisis and resulting credit crunch -- took hold.

But it's not the housing or credit markets but other economic concerns that Americans cite as their families' main economic problems: Health care costs lead that parade, cited by 24 percent; followed by rising prices overall, 23 percent; the price of gasoline, 16 percent; and taxes, 12 percent. There are plenty of economic irritants to go around.

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