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.

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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.

Lifted to power in a protest of Bush's Iraq policies, the Democrats seem now to be sharing disapproval for what remains an unpopular war. Fifty-five percent of Americans say the Democrats in Congress haven't gone far enough to oppose the war; among Democrats themselves, 79 percent say so.

In another measure of dissatisfaction with the status quo, 82 percent say Congress has accomplished little or nothing this year. Still, by a 2-1 ratio, it's Bush and the Republicans, not the Democrats leading Congress, who get most of the blame.

The War

Some measures of opposition to the war have eased slightly, albeit not enough to change the basic equation. Fifty-nine percent of Americans say the war was not worth fighting — down from a high of 66 percent in April, but still a majority, as it's been continuously since December 2004. Fifty-four percent say the United States should withdraw even without restoring civil order; that's inched back from 59 percent in July, though it, too, remains a majority, a line it first crossed in January.

Contrary to last month's report by Gen. David Petraeus, relatively few Americans, 27 percent, think the surge in U.S. forces has improved the situation in Iraq; that's no different than it was shortly before he testified to Congress.

Discontent with the war remains complicated by the quandary of what to do about it. Bush, on Petraeus' advice, has called for reducing the deployment of U.S. forces to pre-surge levels; in this poll a combined total of 52 percent instead either say that's the right pace (38 percent), or it should be slower, while 43 percent say troop reductions should occur more quickly.

An ABC/Post poll last month, however, found 55 percent support a spring deadline for withdrawing all U.S. forces. It seems safe to say the public's conflicted about Iraq: unhappy to be there, unsure how and when to leave.

Approvals

There's less conflict about Bush's handling of the war. Just 30 percent approve of his work on Iraq, two points from his career low, while 68 percent disapprove. Fifty-seven percent disapprove strongly.

Even on the broader U.S. campaign against terrorism, just 40 percent approve of Bush's performance, a new low. Other approval ratings range from 27 percent on the deficit and 30 percent on health care to 37 percent on the economy — none remotely good.

Bush is relatively weak on some of these even in his own party: Just 49 percent of Republicans approve of his handling of health care and 52 percent on the deficit. By contrast, on the war in Iraq — sharply driven by partisanship — 65 percent of Republicans approve of Bush's performance, while 92 percent of Democrats disapprove.

Party preferences tell a similar story. Americans trust the Democratic Party over the Republican Party to handle the situation in Iraq by a record 15-point margin, 49 percent to 34 percent; the Democrats lead by wider margins on health care (preferred over the Republicans by 56 percent to 26 percent), the deficit (52 percent to 29 percent) and the economy (51 percent to 33 percent). Trust to handle terrorism is roughly even, at 41 percent to 40 percent — just about what it was in October 2006, shortly before the Democrats took control of Congress.

Methodology

This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Sept. 27-30, 2007, among a random national sample of 1,114 adults including an oversample of blacks, for a total of 212 black respondents. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

Click here for PDF with charts and data table.

Click here for more ABC News polls.

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