POLL: Health Spending Trumps in Guns vs. Butter Debate

Americans overwhelmingly support increased funding for children's health insurance and just as broadly oppose an additional $190 billion for the war in Iraq — a guns-and-butter battle that's helping to keep President Bush at his career-low job approval rating.

Seventy-two percent in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll support a $35 billion increase in the federally funded State Children's Health Insurance Program, rejecting the president's argument that it would expand coverage too broadly. Intensity is against him as well: People who "strongly" support the bill outnumber strong opponents by 3-1.

Click here for PDF with charts and data table.

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While pledging to veto that measure, Bush separately has issued a far less popular funding request, nearly $190 billion — about $40 billion more than previously requested — for the fighting and related U.S. activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. In this poll 70 percent say the sum should be reduced by Congress and most say it should be cut sharply.

Some of these views cut across the partisanship that marks many political attitudes. Most Republicans and conservatives favor expanding the children's health insurance program. Meanwhile most conservatives oppose fully funding the $190 billion war spending request and a pallid 52 percent of Republicans support the president on it.

With these views added to the ongoing weight of the unpopular war, there's no daylight for Bush's ratings overall. Americans by nearly 2-1 continue to disapprove of his job performance; his approval rating, 33 percent, matches his career low. Intensity is against him here as well, with three strong disapprovers for every one who strongly approves.

If there's any good news for Bush in this, it's that his approval rating has stabilized at a could-be-worse level: He's had 33 percent to 36 percent approval steadily in every ABC/Post poll since December. Three other postwar presidents have gone lower — Truman (22 percent), Nixon (24 percent) and Carter (28 percent) in Gallup polls.

Alarms

Beyond Bush, alarms are ringing for his party in the 2008 election. With Iraq as the country's dominant political issue, Americans by a 20-point margin, 51 percent to 31 percent, say a Democratic president would do a better job than a Republican in resolving the situation there.

On other key issues, the Democratic Party runs evenly with the Republicans in trust to handle terrorism, long Bush's cornerstone issue, and the Democrats enjoy a continued 30-point lead in trust to handle health care.

Bush, moreover, is presiding over a significant drop in the number of Americans who identify themselves as Republicans — down from 31 percent on average in 2003 to 25 percent on average this year, the fewest since 1984.

Yet if Bush and his party are in deep difficulties, the Democrats are hardly shining. Approval of Congress has fallen sharply, from 44 percent in April to 29 percent now, a rating even worse than the president's. While the Republicans in Congress are a good deal less popular than the Democrats, the Democrats nonetheless have fallen from 54 percent approval in April to 38 percent now, a steep 16-point decline.

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