Bush Approval Rating Eases off the Brink

Still, there is broader recognition of a problem: Half the public is upset or even angry about the charges of civilian killings. And while 58 percent say the United States is doing enough to avoid civilian casualties in Iraq, that's sharply down from 82 percent shortly after the war began in spring 2003. Nearly four in 10 now say the United States "should do more" to avoid such casualties; three years ago just 15 percent said so.

There are substantial divisions on whether the military is doing enough to avoid civilian casualties. Men are 15 points more likely to think so than women (66 to 51 percent), most young Americans think not, and while more than three in four Republicans and seven in 10 conservatives think so, more than half of Democrats and six in 10 liberals differ.

Upset or anger about the civilian killings also peaks in some groups – in order, among liberal Democrats, better educated Americans, young adults and women (including equal numbers of Republican and Democratic women alike).

PROGRESS? -- As noted, Americans divide now evenly on whether or not the United States is making significant progress restoring civil order in Iraq. While hardly optimistic, that's better than it was in March, when 56 percent saw no such progress. The killing of al-Zarqawi and the formation of a new government under Nouri al-Maliki may have helped. (Bush got a similar bump in job approval after the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2004, but it subsided within months.) Interestingly, views of progress have advanced the most among two largely unlike groups -- Republicans and liberals. Sustained rather than episodic progress in Iraq would be the best medicine, and there the public remains skeptical: Just 40 percent express confidence Iraq will have a stable democratic government a year from now, no better than views a year ago.

Some other views on Iraq also remain glum: Fifty-eight percent say the war has not contributed to peace and stability in the Mideast, and three-quarters say it's damaged the United States' image in the rest of the world.

At the same time, despite the violence there, two-thirds still believe that overthrowing Saddam Hussein has helped to improve the lives of the Iraqi people. Americans divide on whether the war has encouraged democracy in other Arab nations.

The public continues also to divide on whether the war has improved long-term U.S. security, its chief rationale. However most, 56 percent, continue to see the war in Iraq as part of the war on terrorism; 57 percent think the war on terrorism more broadly is going well (down, however, from 65 percent in late 2003 and a high of 88 percent in January 2002); and nearly six in 10 say the country is safer now than it was before 9/11, the basic evaluation that got Bush re-elected in 2004.

Having the war in Iraq perceived as part of the war on terrorism is crucial for Bush. Holding that view significantly predicts support for the war, belief that it's contributed to U.S. security and belief that the United States is making progress there, even when political affiliation and ideology are held constant.

RATINGS and POLITICS -- On Bush's ratings on specific issues, 37 percent approve of his handling of Iraq, up from a career-low 32 percent last month, and 38 percent approve on the economy, unchanged. Fifty-one percent approve of his work on terrorism, long his best issue, although far below its past levels (a career average 66 percent up to now).

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