Poll: Bush Iraq Rating At New Low

GENERIC Bush, Iraq, Military Combat, Action, Soldier, American, Baghdad, Saddam Hussein CBS

President Bush's approval rating on handling Iraq has fallen to its lowest level ever, and his overall approval rating is the lowest it has been since the 2001 terrorist attacks, according to a CBS News poll.

The poll also finds that a declining number of Americans think the U.S. is in control of the situation in Iraq, and only 22% think the Bush administration has a clear plan for rebuilding the former dictatorship.

Americans also question whether a successful rebuilding of Iraq would ultimately pay dividends for them back at home: most do not think the United States will be any safer from terrorism even if Iraq does become a stable democracy. But many Americans do believe the rebuilding process in Iraq will force tough financial tradeoffs back at home - tradeoffs they would be unwilling to make.


THE PRESIDENT AND IRAQ

In this poll, President Bush receives his lowest rating on his handling of the situation in Iraq since CBS News began asking the question in February. American opinion is now evenly divided on this measure, with 46% approving and 47% disapproving.

Bush's approval rating on Iraq has dropped 11 points since last month and 33 points since April, when he received his highest rating on this question.

BUSH'S HANDLING OF IRAQ

Now
Approve
46%
Disapprove
47%

8/03
Approve
57%
Disapprove
33%

4/03
Approve
79%
Disapprove
17%

2/03
Approve
53%
Disapprove
42%

Not only are Americans more critical of the president's performance on Iraq today, but nearly two-thirds of them now say the Bush administration does NOT have a clear plan for rebuilding Iraq; just over one in five (22%) say it does have a plan. In April, the public was divided; 42% thought the Bush administration had a clear plan for rebuilding Iraq, while 45% thought it did not.

DOES BUSH ADMINISTRATION HAVE A PLAN FOR REBUILDING IRAQ?

Now
Yes
22%
No
64%

4/03
Yes
42%
No
45%


THE CURRENT SITUATION IN IRAQ

The percentage that thinks the U.S. is in control of events in Iraq is at its lowest point since CBS News began asking the question, having dropped more than 30 percentage points since active military combat ended in April. Only 38% now think the U.S. is in control in Iraq, while more -- 48% -- think the U.S. is not in control.

IS U.S. IN CONTROL IN IRAQ?

Now
Yes
38%
No
48%

8/03
Yes
42%
No
47%

4/03
Yes
71%
No
20%

Many Americans see the U.S. becoming bogged down in a situation that is not going well. Fewer than half think things are going well in Iraq for the U.S., and about as many think things are going badly.

HOW ARE THINGS GOING FOR U.S. IN IRAQ?

Now
Well
49%
Badly
47%

8/03
Well
51%
Badly
47%

7/03
Well
60%
Badly
36%

5/03
Well
72%
Badly
24%

Americans are now less convinced that the outcome of the war in Iraq was worth its costs. Few see evidence that the war has resulted in a decrease in the threat of terrorism against the U.S. or an increase in stability in the region.

Fewer than half of Americans (43%) think the war was worth the loss of life and other costs, the lowest number yet in CBS News polls, while more (47%) think it was not worth the costs. Last month, the public was evenly split on this question.

Almost two-thirds think the U.S. underestimated the resistance it would face in Iraq, and only one in four believe the U.S. was correct in its estimation of Iraqi resistance.

U.S. ESTIMATION OF IRAQI RESISTANCE?

Underestimated
64%
Overestimated
3%
Correctly estimated
26%

However, few Americans would like to see the number of troops in Iraq increased now: only 15% would prefer this option, down from 22% who thought it was the right course of action last month. 40% would like to see the current troop levels remain, and 36% of Americans would like them decreased - up from 31% who expressed this desire last month.

Americans strongly favor having the United Nations, not the United States, take over primary responsibility for setting up a new government in Iraq.


PAYING TO REBUILD IRAQ

Americans disapprove of financial trade-offs such as increasing the U.S. federal deficit, or cutting domestic programs, in order to finance the rebuilding of Iraq. Nearly three-quarters would object to raising the deficit, and 82% would reject cuts in domestic spending to offset the costs of rebuilding. Most - 53% - would also disapprove of eliminating the recent tax cuts, though that tradeoff does meet with relatively more favor: 38% would give up those reductions.

Back in March, as the war was beginning, Americans were somewhat more willing to accept cuts in domestic programs to pay for the war than they are to pay for rebuilding in its aftermath. Then, 38% said they would be willing to accept cuts and 47% said they would not.

Yet today many Americans believe at least one of these tradeoffs may be inevitable: about half - 48% - think the U.S. will be forced to cut domestic spending in order to pay for the efforts in Iraq, while just 37% are optimistic that the government can pay for both domestic programs and rebuilding Iraq at the same time.

Most Americans - 66% -- think President Bush's price tag of $87 billion for the rebuilding and military efforts in Iraq for the coming year is too much to spend.

SHOULD THE U.S. SPEND $87 BILLION TO REBUILD IRAQ?

Yes
26%
No
66%

There is one tradeoff Americans are willing to make: most would give U.S. allies a major role in deciding the course of action in rebuilding Iraq, as long as those allies would make a major contribution to the financial costs of that effort.

IRAQ AND TERRORISM

President Bush presented U.S. action in Iraq as an important tool in the war on terrorism. Over half of Americans agree with him and describe the war with Iraq as part of the war on terrorism. But 43% think it was separate; this is the lowest association of military action against Iraq with the war on terror since combat began last March.

Fewer Americans associate the current rebuilding of Iraq with the war on terror; 44% think it is part of that war, while most - 51% - think it is separate.

And most don't think that removing Saddam Hussein will mean the terrorism threat against the U.S. will subside. Less than one in five thinks the threat of terrorism against the U.S. will decrease as a result of U.S. action against Iraq, while 25% think terrorism will increase. Most think the war will have no impact on the threat of terror against the U.S.

There is a somewhat more positive reaction to what the administration hopes the end result in Iraq will be - a democratic government. A majority - 56% - still thinks that a democratic government in Iraq will have no effect on terrorism aimed at the U.S., but 36% think that instituting a stable democracy in Iraq will make the U.S. safer from terrorism.

DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ WILL MAKE U.S.:

More safe
36%
Less safe
5%
No difference
56%

40% think the U.S. presence in Iraq will lead to greater stability in the Middle East in general; 30% think it will make no difference.

U.S. action in Iraq has had little effect on one other aspect of the war against terrorism -- public confidence that the U.S. will be able to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. 52% are still very or somewhat confident the U.S. will do that, while 45% are not confident. Those views have changed little since last November, before the war in Iraq began.


THE PRESIDENT'S JOB APPROVAL

Overall, 52% of Americans approve of Bush's job as president, down from 55% in late August. His current job rating is about what it was prior to the attacks of September 11, 2001. In late August of that year, 50% approved of the way Bush was handling his job as president, while 38% disapproved.

BUSH'S OVERALL JOB RATING

Now
Approve
52%
Disapprove
39%

8/03
Approve
55%
Disapprove
37%

9/01
Approve
89%
Disapprove
7%

8/01
Approve
50%
Disapprove
38%

But while Bush's approval rating on his handling of Iraq has declined, his ratings on handling foreign policy and the economy haven't changed much from a few weeks ago. 47% of Americans approve of the way Bush is handling foreign policy and 41% approve of his handling the economy.

BUSH'S JOB APPROVAL RATINGS

Now
Overall
52%
Handling foreign policy
47%
Handling Iraq
46%
Handling the economy
41%

8/03
Overall
55%
Handling foreign policy
50%
Handling Iraq
57%
Handling the economy
39%

Most Americans do not accuse the current president of spending too much time on foreign affairs, a charge that dogged his father, George H.W. Bush, after the Persian Gulf War. While 44% say the current president is spending too much time on foreign policy problems, 40% say he is spending about the right amount of time on both foreign and domestic problems. In October 1991, 58% thought George H.W. Bush was spending too much time on foreign policy problems.

For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.


This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 675 adults interviewed by telephone September 15-16, 2003. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus four percentage points for results based on the entire sample.
  • Joel Roberts

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