Bush Slumps to a New Low -- It's All About Iraq

ByABC News
May 16, 2006, 1:15 PM

May 16, 2006 — -- George W. Bush's job approval rating has slumped to 33 percent, tying the all-time low for presidential approval in the 25 years of ABC News/Washington Post polls. Sixty-five percent disapprove, a new high.

The war in Iraq -- try as he might to change the subject -- is the reason.

Americans who disapprove of Bush's performance overwhelmingly cite Iraq as the main reason. His rating for handling the war has hit a new low. Sixty-two percent say the war was not worth fighting, a new high. And 59 percent call the war a mistake -- about as many as said that about Vietnam in the early 1970s.

Unhappiness with the war has infected broader views of the administration, Congress and the country's direction. Sixty-nine percent say the country is on the wrong track, the highest percentage who've said that since the mid-1990s. Pessimism about the policies Bush will pursue over the year ahead has jumped by 10 points since December, to 53 percent. Congress' approval rating is as bad as Bush's, and is the worst it's been since the mid-1990s.

Deep as it is at the national level, this unhappiness does not constitute a broad-based malaise, which more often has economic roots. It dissipates locally: While just 29 percent say the nation is going in the right direction, more, 45 percent, say their state is headed the right way, and 58 percent say their local community is on the right track.

Indeed, in stark contrast to their national political views, more than eight in 10 Americans are satisfied with their own lives and optimistic about their personal future. Six in 10 are optimistic about their local economy, and nearly eight in 10 are optimistic about their family's financial situation.

But that's of little help to Bush, whose unpopularity may imperil his party's fortunes in November. There's a strong correlation between presidential approval and losses for the president's party in midterm elections. And the Democratic Party leads the Republican Party in the degreee of trust people give it to handle each of 10 specific issues tested in this poll -- including, for the first time, terrorism, a serious inroad into the administration's core strength.

BUSH -- The president's situation is fairly dire. His approval rating now matches his father's low in August 1992, the summer before he lost re-election. His disapproval rating is the highest in ABC/Post polls since 1981, and a single point from the highest in Gallup polls since 1938 (that record is Richard Nixon's).

Intensity, too, is against him by record margins: Nearly half of Americans, 47 percent, "strongly" disapprove of Bush's job performance, while just 17 percent strongly approve, the lowest of his presidency. Viewed through a partisan lens, 73 percent of Democrats strongly disapprove of Bush, while far fewer Republicans, 41 percent, strongly approve.

While he's down across the board, Bush's biggest losses have been among moderate Republicans -- 57 percent of them now approve of his job performance, compared with a career average of 84 percent. His approval rating is just 40 percent, even in the red states he won in 2004; in John Kerry's blue states, it's 25 percent.

Majorities overall disapprove of Bush's work on seven out of nine specific issues tested in this poll, soaring to a high of 76 percent disapproval for his handling of gasoline prices. His only positive ratings are for handling the United States' response to terrorism (53 percent, long the almost single-note source of his support) and protecting privacy rights in terrorism investigations (52 percent).

Other presidents have fared worse than Bush's current ratings: Harry Truman saw 22 percent in 1952, Richard Nixon 23 percent in 1974 and Jimmy Carter 28 percent in 1979 in Gallup polls. But historically, as first noted last fall, Bush's approval rating across his career most closely resembles Lyndon B. Johnson's as the country became enmeshed in Vietnam. Johnson's approval rating in Gallup polls fell from 75 percent on average in 1964 to 43 percent in 1967 and 1968. Bush, for his part, has gone from an average of 73 percent approval in 2001 and 2002 to an average 40 percent so far this year. The trend lines are strikingly similar.

METHODOLOGY -- This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone May 11-15, 2006, among a random national sample of 1,103 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. (The results on immigration were fielded May 12-14 among 508 adults; the error margin for that sample is 4.5 points.) Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

To see the complete results of this poll, click here.

To see previous ABC News polls, click here.