Bush Approval Rating Eases off the Brink

Slightly less negative views on Iraq have eased George W. Bush's job rating off the political brink, while the lack of a better idea of what to do there is helping to complicate the Democrats' opportunities in this fall's midterm election.

Bush is hardly in the clear: Just 38 percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll approve of his work in office, up from 33 percent last month, a gain chiefly among moderate Republicans who'd been inching away. Sixty percent still disapprove of his performance, including just shy of half, a new high, who disapprove "strongly."

Sampling, data collection and tabulation for this poll were done by TNS.

Iraq remains Bush's biggest problem. There's been a slight five-point advance (to an even split) in views that the United States is making progress there, and a five-point gain in approval of how he's handling it. But 58 percent still say the war was not worth fighting, just off its peak, and 64 percent say Bush lacks a clear plan of what to do in Iraq.

However, after a fractured Democratic debate on withdrawal options last week, even more, 71 percent, say the Democrats lack a clear plan as well.

The Democrats maintain a substantial lead in overall voter preferences in November, but their advantages on specific issues have diminished. In trust to handle Iraq, a 14-point Democratic lead in May has slipped to six points now. And their advantage on national security has proved short-lived: A five-point Democratic edge on handling terrorism last month has shifted to a seven-point Republican advantage now. That change has occurred mainly among independents, the quintessential swing voters.

The Democrats also have lost ground in trust to handle immigration, a red-meat issue for core, conservative Republicans, and one on which congressional Republicans rebuked Bush last week by setting aside his two-pronged initiative -- stronger border enforcement coupled with a program leading to residency status for many illegals here now.

Despite that spat, most of Bush's gains in overall job approval have been in his own party: He's improved by 14 points among Republicans in the past month, to 82 percent approval. Seventy-eight percent of moderate Republicans now approve of his performance, up 21 points from a career-low 57 percent in May.

IRAQ -- With the difficulties in Iraq, a withdrawal deadline has gained in appeal: Given pro-and-con views (avoiding further casualties vs. the risk of encouraging the insurgents), Americans split on a withdrawal deadline, with 47 percent in favor, 51 percent opposed. Opposition is down from 60 percent in an ABC/Post poll six months ago.

Another problem in Iraq -- charges that some U.S. military forces have intentionally killed civilians there -- is broadly seen as an aberration, with 78 percent viewing these as "isolated incidents" rather than a more widespread problem. Indeed an overwhelming 86 percent approve of the way U.S. forces are handling their jobs in Iraq; 61 percent approve strongly.

Notably, even among Americans who say the war was not worth fighting, eight in 10 approve overall of the way U.S. forces are doing their jobs.

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