POLL: Bush Seen as Unwilling to Change Course; Most Would Shift War Control to Congress

Approval ratings match career low.


July 23, 2007 — -- President Bush faces growing disenchantment in his own party on the war in Iraq, with most Republicans -- his customarily loyal base -- now saying he's not willing enough to change his war policies. Discontent runs so deep that six in 10 Americans would shift control of the war to Congress.

Overall, an overwhelming 78 percent of Americans in this ABC News/Washington Post poll say Bush is not willing enough to change his stance on the war, up from 66 percent last December. The biggest movement is among Republicans; 55 percent say the president is not willing enough to alter his Iraq polices, up 16 points.

What to do about Iraq remains vexing; public support for a withdrawal deadline collapses in the face of pushback on the prospect of all-out civil war or an al Qaeda stronghold. But neither is the status quo acceptable in a war that 63 percent say was not worth fighting.

Just 22 percent think the "surge" of U.S. forces is improving security, and 64 percent think it will not succeed in the next few months. Congressional Democrats, while also damaged by discontent with the war, lead Bush by 55-32 percent in trust to handle it. Thus the public by 2-1 says Congress, not the president, should have final say on when the troops come home.

As befits a president in an unpopular war, just 33 percent now approve of Bush's job performance overall, matching his career low. Sixty-five percent disapprove, a number surpassed only by Richard Nixon in the summer of 1974, albeit matched by Harry Truman and approached by Bush's father. Fifty-two percent "strongly" disapprove of Bush's work, a new high for this president.

PARTY -- Bush's difficulty extends to his party. Just 23 percent of Americans in this survey identify themselves as Republicans. Aside from an identical reading in April, that's the fewest in any ABC/Post poll in seven years.

In annual averages since 1981, the number of self-identified Republicans had been gradually rising, and the number of Democrats falling, until, in 2003, they reached parity. Since then -- the year the United States invaded Iraq -- the trend has reversed. Republican self-identification is down; independents, in particular, are up.

WITHDRAWAL -- In terms of what to do in Iraq, at least on the fundamental question of withdrawal, options are thorny. While 55 percent support a deadline to withdraw forces by next spring, that drops sharply, to only about a third, if it would raise the odds of a full-scale civil war or an al Qaeda stronghold in Iraq -- precisely Bush's pushback.

Still, concern about negative consequences of withdrawing is countered by a clear desire to get out of Iraq. Setting aside the debate about a deadline and the odds of all-out civil war, 59 percent of Americans favor withdrawing at some point even if civil order has not been restored in Iraq -- a new high, and a number that shifted to a majority only this year.

Relatively few favor immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq -- 20 percent, though that is up slightly, by five points, from last month. Nearly as many, 16 percent, would increase the number of forces.

POLICY -- While Americans are torn on when and how to get out of Iraq, there are policy proposals that win broad support. Seventy-four percent favor switching from a combat mission to a training role in support of Iraqi military forces. Two-thirds support cutting aid to the Iraqi government if it fails to make political and military progress. And as many back new troop rotation rules that would reduce the deployment of U.S. forces.

Those first two -- changing to a training role and making aid dependent on performance -- also were broadly popular (indeed a bit more so than now) when proposed by the Iraq Study Group in December.

In a sign of dim hopes for Iraq, while most support making Iraqi aid contingent on progress by its government, few expect to see that progress occur. Sixty-two percent say they are not confident in the Iraqi government's ability to meet its commitments in the effort to restore civil order.

CONGRESS -- It was the public's unhappiness with the war that led to the Democrats' takeover of Congress; now, with no clear solution in sight, the Democrats are feeling some of the public's ire as well.

Sixty-three percent of Americans disapprove of how the Democrats in Congress are handling the war in Iraq -- nearly as many as the 68 percent who disapprove of how Bush is handling it. In a spillover view, 60 percent also disapprove of how the Democrats are handling the U.S. campaign against terrorism, up 13 points from April.

Forty-nine percent of Americans say the Democrats have done too little to try to get Bush to change his Iraq policies. This sentiment spikes in the party itself; among Democrats, 61 percent say their party hasn't done enough to try to move Bush on Iraq.

Disapproval of Congress overall -- not specifically the Democrats -- has gained 10 points this year, from 50 percent in January to 60 percent now.

Still, the Democrats are in far better shape than their counterparts. While 51 percent disapprove of how the Democrats in Congress are handling their jobs, that jumps to 64 percent disapproval of the Republicans. And it's the Republicans' disapproval that's risen most recently -- by six points since June.

As Bush's fate goes, so goes not only his party's, but (roughly) his vice president's: Just 34 percent approve of how Dick Cheney is handling his job, while 59 percent disapprove. Cheney, though, does not generate the intensity of disapproval that Bush does -- 41 percent disapprove strongly, compared with Bush's 52 percent strong disapproval.

OTHER ISSUES -- While the war in Iraq is the 800-pound gorilla in public attitudes about Bush, he's hurting on other fronts as well. Fifty-six percent, a record high, disapprove of how he's handling the broader U.S. campaign against terrorism -- once the cornerstone of his presidency, and the issue that cemented his re-election in 2004.

Moreover, perhaps linked to his pardon of Scooter Libby, a record 65 percent disapprove of how Bush is handling ethics in government, up eight points since April.

PARTISANSHIP -- Partisanship remains rife. While a majority of Republicans say Bush is not willing enough to change his war policies, most stick with him otherwise. Seventy-seven percent of Republicans approve of his job performance overall, 73 percent approve of his work specifically on Iraq (though fewer than half strongly approve), and 65 percent say Bush -- not Congress -- should have final say on when the troops are withdrawn.

On each of these, Democrats are diametrically opposed, and independents side heavily with the Democrats

FAMILY/FRIENDS -- A final result shows the extent to which the Iraq war has touched American families. Forty-four percent in this survey say they, or a close personal friend or family member, has served in the U.S. military in Iraq since the war began.

There are some attitudinal differences among people with this personal connection to the war. While 57 percent say the war was not worth fighting, that compares to 69 percent of other Americans. Sixty-one percent disapprove of how Bush is handling it, compared with 75 percent among other Americans.

But -- closer to others' views -- 76 percent of those with a friend or family member who's served say Bush has not been willing enough to change his war policies. And 60 percent say Congress, not the president, should have final say on bringing the troops home.

METHODOLOGY -- This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone July 18-21, 2007, among a random national sample of 1,125 adults. Additional interviews were conducted with an oversample of randomly selected African-Americans for a total of 210 black respondents. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

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