By WILL LESTER, AP
The continuing war in Iraq is the one that troubles the president's supporters the most.
WASHINGTON (Oct. 7) - Evangelicals, Republican women, Southerners and other critical groups in President Bush's political coalition are worried about the direction the nation is headed and disappointed with his performance, an AP-Ipsos poll found.
That unease could be a troubling sign for a White House already struggling to keep the Republican Party base from slipping over Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, Gulf Coast spending projects, immigration and other issues.
"Politically, this is very serious for the president," said James Thurber, a political scientist at American University. "If the base of his party has lost faith, that could spell trouble for his policy agenda and for the party generally."
Sentiment about the nation's direction has sunk to new depths at a time people are anxious about Iraq, the economy, gas prices and the management of billions of dollars being spent for recovery from the nation's worst natural disaster.
Only 28 percent say the country is headed in the right direction while two-thirds, 66 percent, say it is on the wrong track, the poll found.
"There is a growing, deep-seated discontentment and pessimism about the direction of the country," said Republican strategist Tony Fabrizio, who believes the reasons for their pessimism differ for those in one political party or another.
Among those most likely to have lost confidence about the nation's direction over the past year are white evangelicals, down 30 percentage points since November, Republican women, down 28 points, Southerners, down 26 points, and suburban men, down 20 points.
Bush's supporters are uneasy about issues such as federal deficits, immigration and his latest nomination for the Supreme Court. Social conservatives are concerned about his choice of Miers, a relatively unknown lawyer who has most recently served as White House counsel.
"Bush is trying to get more support generally from the American public by seeming more moderate and showing he's a strong leader at the same time he has a rebellion within his own party," Thurber said. "The far right is starting to be very open about their claim that he's not a real conservative."
The president's job approval is mired at the lowest level of his presidency - 39 percent. While four of five Republicans say they approve of Bush's job performance - enthusiasm in that support has dipped over the last year.
In December 2004, soon after his re-election, almost two-thirds of Republicans strongly approved of the job done by Bush. The AP-Ipsos survey found that just half in his own party feel that way now.
The intensity of support for Bush's job performance has also dropped sharply among white evangelicals, Southerners, people from rural areas and suburban men.
"We've lost focus on where we're supposed to be going and not able to respond to the crises that affect the people of this country," said David Ernest, a Republican from San Ramon, Calif., who is angry about the government's response to Hurricane Katrina. "We're mired in a Middle Eastern adventure and we've taken the focus off of our own country."
Bush has tried to reassure conservatives about his Supreme Court nominee. He's also trying to counter critics of the war by tying U.S. efforts in Iraq to the larger war against terrorism. And he's made frequent trips to the areas devastated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita to offset criticism of the government's initial response to Katrina.
Of all the problems facing the country, the war in Iraq is the one that troubles some Bush supporters the most.
"I approve of what the president is doing, but it's a mixed decision," said Richard Saulinski, a Republican from Orland Park, Ill. "We should get out of Iraq. It seems like there's no light at the end of the tunnel. I just think we're dealing with a culture we don't really understand."
The poll of 1,000 adults was conducted by Ipsos, an international polling company, from Monday to Wednesday and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
AP manager of news surveys Trevor Tompson contributed to this story.
10/07/05 17:30 EDT
White evangelicals? Those are the morons who thought it was more important to vote for the person who shouted the loudest about how Christian he is, without assessing how Christian his behavior was. These are the folks who thought protecting their marriages against gay people was more important than protecting their jobs. And now they've lost confidence? Boo hoo dee hoo.