Posted on Thu, May. 06, 2004_krdDartInc++;document.write('');[img][/img]http://[img]http://ad.doubleclick.ne...811?[/img]
New poll reveals across-the-board problems for Bush
BY MARK SILVA
The Orlando Sentinel
ORLANDO, Fla. -
(KRT) - Public opposition to the war in Iraq is at an all-time high - and support for President Bush's handling of the broader war against terrorism is at an all-time low - after the deadliest month for U.S. troops and revelations about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American forces.
The Gallup Poll of 1,000 adults nationwide released Thursday revealed across-the-board problems for the president, with his approval slipping on concerns ranging from homeland security to foreign policy to the economy.
Those findings, combined with a sharply growing discontent for the way things are going in the country in general, are translating to an even tougher re-election contest on Nov. 2. The survey - conducted Sunday through Tuesday - showed 49 percent of likely voters favoring Democrat John Kerry, 48 percent for Bush.
This is a tighter race than the 6 percentage-point advantage Gallup found for Bush less than a month ago. Just as revealing: A closer look at 16 battleground states shows Kerry favored among 48 percent, Bush 44 - again, a statistical tie.
The unrelenting run of bad news in Iraq is polarizing the nation, experts say, and appears to have peeled away the support of some voters who had been willing to give Bush the benefit of the doubt.
But it's not only the war against terrorism - the mainstay of Bush's re-election campaign - that is troubling voters, Gallup found: Support for Bush's handling of the economy slumped to an all-time low at a time when indicators suggest nation's economic health is improving.
"The overall tone of the American electorate now has turned glum," said Frank Newport, The Gallup Poll's editor in chief. "It's surprising to some observers, because the economy is doing better. But for whatever reason, the public has actually turned more dour on Bush on the economy."
Although half of those surveyed still say Bush made the right call in going to war with Iraq, 55 percent now disapprove of how Bush is handing the situation - a sharp contrast to January, when 61 percent approved of Bush's actions in Iraq. That plunge, Newport said, could have as much to do with at least 136 U.S. troops killed in Iraq during April as with recent revelations of prison abuses.
"There has been a spate of bad news from Iraq, and all of that is affecting the electorate," Newport said. "And if you put that on top of the bad economy, you have a glum set of voters out there."
Bush, who on Wednesday condemned the acts of brutality against Iraqi prisoners and reprimanded Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for failing to fully inform him of the problems, issued a public apology Thursday and pledged the troops involved would be punished. Kerry, who supported the invasion of Iraq, criticized the Bush administration for not acting more swiftly when accusations arose in January.
"Today, I have a message for the men and woman of our armed forces," Kerry said in a speech in Colton, Calif. "As commander-in-chief, I will honor your commitment and I will take responsibility for the bad as well as the good. As president, I will not be the last to know what is going on in my command."
Thursday's poll for CNN and USA Today also showed that public approval of Bush's overall performance as president - 49 percent - matching an all-term low hit twice before, in winter and spring polls Gallup conducted.
This holds a potential historical problem for Bush, Newport says: In Gallup's decades of polling, since President Harry Truman's time, no president has won re-election when his job-approval stood at less than 50 percent after February of election year.
Yet some observers say the latest polling mainly shows how divided Americans have become, suggesting that the nation will remain sharply split into the long summer of campaigning, through the political parties' nominating conventions and into November's election.
"The electorate is very clearly polarized," said Peverill Squire, professor of political science at the University of Iowa.
While new waves of bad news about the conflict in Iraq are turning away Democrats and independents who supported the president's handling of the war, Squire said, the president commands a solid core of supporters standing alongside him.
"What we have seen in the surveys is that Democrats who approved of his handling of the war a few months ago have started to desert him," Squire said. "Republicans are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He's probably got that level of support that won't leave him unless there is something just horrible that happens."
Horrible things have started happening in the last two weeks: First came photographs of American soldiers humiliating captors at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, then the Army's report that it is investigating deaths of 10 prisoners and abuses of 10 more. It's too early to gauge the full impact of this latest episode, Newport said.
Gallup's newest findings add up to one rough report card for the president:
_Approval of Bush's handling of terrorism, which once carried him through declining ratings on the economy, has reached a low of 52 percent, down from 66 percent last summer. Forty-five percent disapprove, up from 31 in August.
_Opposition to the war in Iraq has reached a high of 55 percent, with just 42 percent approving. This marks a 34-point drop in the approval rating from the end of major combat one year ago, when Bush declared his "mission accomplished" in Iraq.
_Approval of Bush's handling of foreign affairs has reached a similar all-term low: 42 percent. This rating had fallen to 46 percent last fall, but rebounded to 58 percent in January, after the capture of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
_Approval of Bush's handling of the economy has reached a low of 41 percent, with 56 percent disapproving.
_Sixty-two percent of Americans say they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country_the highest number Gallup has found since January 1996, just after a partisan congressional budget impasse shut down the federal government.
The overall poll carries a possible margin of error of 3 percentage points. A smaller group of 564 likely voters has a 4-point margin of error.
All of this has contributed to the latest shift in a see-sawing electoral contest between Bush and Kerry six months from Election Day.
In early March, after securing his own party's nomination, Kerry led Bush by 50 to 44 percentage points. In mid-April, after a month of mostly critical Bush campaign ads targeting Kerry, Bush led Kerry by 50 to 44. Now, according to Gallup, the race is a dead heat.
"I'm not sure that the trial heats are very instructive at this point," says pollster Scott Keeter, associate director of the Pew Research Center for the People and Press.
"For the president," he said, "given how bad the news has been and how tough his ratings are on specific aspects of his job, the fact that his overall job approval is not terrible and the fact that he is holding up in these match-ups with Kerry has got to be taken as good news ... .
"The best you can say about these trial heats is that both of these candidates are still alive, despite things that could be taken as very troubling for them."