Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Seven in 10 Americans disapprove of the way the president is handling the situation in Iraq

Jon Cohen:

Negative assessments of the war in Iraq -- the central issue in last month's midterm election -- continue to hold down President Bush's job approval ratings and could cast a pall on the final two years of his presidency.

In a new Post-ABC News poll, seven in 10 Americans disapprove of the way the president is handling the situation in Iraq -- the highest percentage since the March 2003 invasion. Six in 10 say the war was not worth fighting.

While both gauges on the war have been negative since late 2004, Bush's approval rating on Iraq has deteriorated further since early October, likely weakened by recent high-profile criticisms of the administration's Iraq policy.

The bleak appraisals of the war include the release last week of the much-anticipated report from the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan government advisory panel, which described conditions in Iraq as "grave and deteriorating."

With evident public skepticism about the situation in Iraq, the war remains the president's biggest challenge and the heaviest drag on his overall approval rating.

In this poll, 36 percent approve of how Bush is handling his job, which is the second lowest percentage in Post-ABC polls since Bush took office in 2001; 62 percent disapprove.

And as has been true throughout this year, the intensity of sentiment runs starkly against the president: Those who strongly disapprove of Bush's job performance outnumber those who strongly approve by nearly a 3-to-1 margin.

Bush's tepid approval ratings and the public's deep doubts about the war in Iraq put the president in a tight political position as he prepares, for the first time, to face a Congress controlled by the Democrats.

By contrast, Bill Clinton entered the seventh year of his presidency riding a wave of public support following his impeachment in December 1998; at the time, two-thirds of Americans approved of his job performance. (Ronald Reagan's job approval in December 1986 was 49 percent.)

To regain public support, Bush would need to make inroads among independents and political moderates, two groups that went heavily for Democratic congressional candidates last month.

While Bush enjoys significant support among Republicans (77 percent approve), just three in 10 independents, and three in 10 moderates, approve of his job performance. Democrats continue to give an overwhelmingly negative assessment of how Bush is handling his job (86 percent disapprove, 75 percent do so "strongly").

Attitudes about the Iraq war also showed a deep political division. Eighty-one percent of Democrats and 65 percent of independents say the war in Iraq was not worth fighting, while most Republicans -- 69 percent -- say that on balance the war was worth fighting.

Overall, 61 percent of Americans feel the war was not worth fighting. Half of Americans feel "strongly" that the war was not worth fighting, double the number who strongly believe that it was.

Coming GOP war … over the war!

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