Poll finds doubts about Bush ladership on the rise | VailDaily.com

Poll finds doubts about Bush ladership on the rise

Richard Morin and Dan Balz

WASHINGTON – For the first time in his presidency a majority of Americans question the integrity of President Bush, and growing doubts about his leadership have left him with record negative ratings on the economy, Iraq and even the war on terrorism, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. On virtually every key measure of presidential character and performance, the new survey found that Bush has never been less popular with the American people. Currently 39 percent approve of the job he is doing as president, while 60 percent now disapprove of his performance in office – the highest level of disapproval ever recorded for Bush in Post-ABC polls. Virtually the only possible bright spot for Bush in the survey was generally favorable, if not quite enthusiastic, early reaction to his latest Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. Half of Americans say he should be confirmed by the Senate and fewer than a third view him as too conservative, the poll found. Overall, the survey underscores how several pillars of Bush’s presidency have begun to crumble under the combined weight of events and mistakes by the White House. Bush’s approval ratings have been in decline for months, but on issues of personal trust, honesty and values, Bush has suffered some of his most notable declines. Moreover, Bush has always retained majority support on his handling of the U.S. campaign terrorism -until now, when 51 percent registered disapproval. The CIA leak case has apparently contributed to a withering decline in how Americans view Bush personally. The survey found that 40 percent now view him as honest and trustworthy – a 13 percentage point drop in the past 18 months. Nearly six in 10 – 58 percent – said they had doubts about Bush’s honesty, the first time in his presidency that more than half the country has questioned his personal integrity. The indictment Friday of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, in the CIA case added to the burden of an administration already reeling from a failed Supreme Court nomination, public dissatisfaction with the economy and continued bloodshed in Iraq. According to the survey, 52 percent say the charges against Libby signal the presence of deeper ethical wrongdoing in the administration. Half believe White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, the president’s top political hand, also did something wrong in the case, and roughly six in 10 say Rove should resign his White House position. Beyond the leak case, Americans give the administration low ratings on ethics, according to the survey, with 67 percent rating the administration negatively on handling ethical matters, while just 32 percent give the administration positive marks. Forty-three percent say the level of ethics and honesty in the federal government has fallen during Bush’s presidency, while 17 percent say it has risen. Faced with its cascade of recent setbacks, the White House is hoping the latest court nomination can rally disaffected conservatives and score the president a victory akin to the one he enjoyed in the nomination of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. Alito begins the confirmation process with the support of 49 percent of the public while 29 percent currently say he should not be confirmed, the poll found. Twenty-two percent didn’t yet know enough about him to make a judgment. The dissatisfaction with Bush flows in part out of broad concerns about the overall direction of the country. Nearly seven in 10 – 68 percent – currently believe the country is seriously off course while only 30 percent are optimistic, the lowest level in more than nine years. Only three in 10 express high levels of confidence in Bush while half say they have little or no confidence in this administration. Just 35 percent of those surveyed rated the economy as either excellent or good, with 65 percent describing it as not so good or poor. Although the government reported last week that gross domestic product rose 3.8 percent in the last quarter, despite the effects of Hurricane Katrina, 29 percent of those surveyed said they regarded the economy as poor, the highest recorded during Bush’s presidency. Attitudes toward Bush are sharply polarized by party, as they have been throughout his presidency. Almost eight in 10 – 78 percent – of Rublicans support the president, while just 11 percent of Democrats rate him positively. Republicans long have been the key to Bush’s overall strength but Bush has suffered some defections since the beginning of the year, when 91 percent approved of the way he was handling his job. Among independents, Bush’s approval has plummeted since the beginning of the year. In the latest poll, 33 percent of independents approved of his performance, while 66 percent disapproved. In January, independents were evenly divided, with 49 percent approving and an equal percentage disapproving. The intensity of Bush’s support has changed since his re-election a year ago, with opponents deepening their hostility toward the administration. In the latest survey, 47 percent said they strongly disapproved of the way he was performing in office, compared with 35 percent who expressed strong disapproval in January. At the same time, the percentage who say they strongly approve of his performance has fallen from 33 percent last January to 20 percent today. Iraq remains a significant drag on Bush’s presidency, with dissatisfaction over the situation there continuing to grow and with rising suspicion over whether administration officials misled the country in the run up to the invasion more than two years ago. Nearly two-thirds disapprove of the way Bush is handling the situation there, while barely a third approve, a new low. Six in 10 now believe the United States was wrong to invade Iraq, a seven-point increase in just over two months, with almost half the country saying they strongly believe it was wrong. About three in four – 73 percent – said there have been an unacceptable level of casualties in Iraq. More than half – 52 percent – said the war with Iraq has not contributed to the long-term security of the United States. Fifty-two percent percent say the United States should keep its military forces in Iraq until civil order is restored, while 18 percent said the U.S. should withdraw its forces immediately. In the week after U.S. deaths in Iraq passed the 2,000 mark, a majority of those surveyed–55 percent–said the U.S. is not making significant progress toward stabilizing the country. The war has taken a toll on the administration’s credibility, with 55 percent now saying the administration deliberately misled the country in making its case for war with Iraq–a conflict that an even larger majority say was not worth the cost. The president’s handling of terrorism was widely regarded among strategists as the key to his winning a second term last year. But questions about Bush’s effectiveness on other fronts have also depreciated this asset. His 48 percent approval now compares to 61 percent approval on this issue at the time of his second inaugural, and from a 2004 high of 66 percent. Bush also set new lows in the latest Post-ABC News poll for his management of the economy, where disapproval topped 60 percent for the first time in his presidency. And six in 10 are critical of the way Bush is dealing with health care–a double-digit increase since March. On gasoline prices, Bush’s numbers have increased slightly over the past two months, but still remain highly negative, with just 26 percent rating him positively. The survey suggests a rapidly widening gulf between Bush and the American people. Two in three say Bush doesn’t understand the problems of people like them, a 10 percentage point increase since January. Fifty-eight percent doubt Bush shares their values while 40 percent say he does, another new low for this president. For the first time since he took office, fewer than half – 47 percent – currently say Bush is a strong leader, and Americans divide equally over whether Bush can be trusted in a crisis. Told of the poll results, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said Bush would rally support through such issues as education reform, changes to the tax code, and a new energy strategy to show the public that he “will continue to push for changes in our government to serve the American people.”A total of 1,202 randomly selected adults were interviewed Oct 30-Nov. 2 for this survey. Margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus 3 percentage points. Vail, Colorado

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