Poll: Bush Out Of Step With Public

CBS News/New York Times poll graphic CBS/AP

A month into his second term, President Bush confronts a public that feels his Administration's domestic and foreign policy priorities are out of step with their own priorities. Americans still cite jobs and the war in Iraq as the country's most important problems, with Social Security and tax cuts, two of the President's signature issues, lagging behind in the public's mind.

Americans have become somewhat more positive about the situation in opinion on Iraq since the elections there, but overall there has been no shift in whether going to war there was the right thing to do. On the domestic front, there is concern about the budget deficit, which the public expects will grow with the President's new budget.

THE SITUATION IN IRAQ
Since the Iraqi elections a few weeks ago, Americans have become more positive about U.S. efforts to bring stability and democracy to that country, and President Bush's approval rating on his handling of the situation in Iraq has increased by five points, from 40 percent pre-inauguration to 45 percent now.

BUSH'S JOB APPROVAL ON HANDLING IRAQ
Approve
Now
45%
1/2005
40%

Disapprove
Now
50%
1/2005
55%

53 percent now say things are going well for the U.S. -- the highest number since shortly after the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003. In January, before those elections, 57 percent of Americans said U.S. efforts in Iraq were going badly.

HOW ARE THINGS IN IRAQ GOING FOR U.S.?
Well
Now
53%
1/2005
41%
12/2003
65%

Badly
Now
47%
1/2005
57%
12/2003
33%

While Americans see improvement in the current Iraq situation, they still expect that Iraq will be a concern to Americans for a long time, and those views haven't changed much in the last year. Just 9 percent think Iraq will become a stable democracy in a year or two. Most -- 55 percent -- say Iraq will become a democracy but that it will take longer than two years. Still, a sizeable number -- 34 percent -- think Iraq will probably never become a stable democracy.

WILL IRAQ BECOME A STABLE DEMOCRACY?
Yes, in a year or two
Now
9%
12/2003
7%

Yes, in over a year or two
Now
55%
12/2003
59%

Probably not
Now
34%
12/2003
31%

Most Americans think U.S. troops should stay in Iraq until a stable democracy is created -- 55 percent agree. But four in 10 think U.S. troops should leave Iraq as soon as possible. Many of those who want U.S. troops to leave now are negative about the prospect of democracy there; 57 percent of them think Iraq will never become a stable democracy.

U.S. TROOPS IN IRAQ SHOULD…
Stay as long as it takes
Now
55%
1/2005
51%

Leave as soon as possible
Now
40%
1/2005
42%

As the second anniversary of the start of the war with Iraq nears, many Americans continue to doubt whether the U.S. did the right thing in going to war in the first place. 50 percent say the U.S. should have stayed out of Iraq, while 46 percent think the U.S. did the right thing in taking military action. About a week into the war in March 2003, 69 percent of Americans said the U.S. had done the right thing in taking action. For the past year, opinion has been divided, much as it is now.

RIGHT THING TO TAKE MILITARY ACTION IN IRAQ?
Right thing
Now
46%
1/2005
45%
3/2003
69%

Should have stayed out
Now
50%
1/2005
49%
3/2003
25%

Americans continue to say that President Bush does not have a clear plan for bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq. 71 percent do not think Bush has developed a clear plan, while 21 percent think he has one.

IMPORTANT ISSUES
Nine in 10 Americans think the current federal budget situation is serious, and only one in ten think Bush's proposed budget for next year will shrink the deficit. And just 29 percent approve of President Bush's handling of the federal budget deficit; six in ten disapprove.

But when it comes to national priorities, Americans have other issues they think are even more important for the government to resolve than the budget deficit.

42 percent of Americans think Bush's proposed budget for next year will result in a larger deficit than the current one (including three in 10 Republicans, half of Democrats and two in five Independents). 36 percent think the deficit next year will be about the same size as this year's. Only one in 10 Americans think the budget deficit will be smaller next year.


BUSH'S PROPOSED BUDGET WILL CREATE…
A larger deficit
All 42%
Rep. 29%
Dem. 52%
Ind. 43%

A smaller deficit
All 10%
Rep. 17%
Dem. 7%
Ind. 6%

The same deficit as current one
All 36%
Rep. 40%
Dem 32%
Ind. 35%

So far, over half of the public has heard something about Bush's proposed budget plan (16 percent have heard a lot, and 44% have heard some). 38 percent say they haven't heard much.

But the budget deficit trails other issues on the public's list of priorities for the country. The public has two clear priorities: the economy and the war in Iraq. When asked to volunteer the most important problem facing the United States today, 20 percent name the economy and jobs, closely followed by the war in Iraq, mentioned by 19 percent. Other issues mentioned include terrorism (6 percent), Social Security (5 percent), health care (also 5 percent) and the budget deficit (4 percent).

MOST IMPORTANT PROBLEM FACING THE U.S. TODAY
Economy and jobs
Now 20%
1/2005 17%

War in Iraq
Now 19%
1/2005 21%

Terrorism
Now 6%
1/2005 8%

Social Security
Now 5%
1/2005 3%

Health care
Now 5%
1/2005 6%

Budget deficit
Now 4%
1/2005 2%

When included in a specific list of five domestic issues, jobs still come out on top as the most important domestic issue for one-third of Americans, followed by health care (29 percent). Social Security takes third place, chosen by 19 percent of the public. 14 percent pick the federal budget deficit, and 5 percent choose prescription drugs. There are no significant differences by party affiliation.

WHICH ONE IS MOST IMPORTANT?
Jobs
32%
Health care
29%
Social Security
19%
Budget deficit
14%
Prescription drugs
5%

When given a list of five foreign policy issues, Iraq is named as the top priority by a wide margin.

And Americans give the Bush Administration low marks on sharing their priorities. Just 31 percent of Americans think the Administration shares their domestic priorities, and six in 10 say the Administration's priorities are different from their own. Similarly on the international front, nearly six in 10 think the Administration does not share their foreign policy priorities.


DOES THE ADMINISTRATION SHARE YOUR PRIORITIES ON…?
Domestic issues
Yes
31%
No
63%

Foreign policy
Yes
37%
No
58%

There are significant party differences on these two questions. Most Republicans say the Bush Administration shares their priorities, while large majorities of Democrats and Independents say it does not.

THE ECONOMY AND TAXES
As for the economy, a majority of 57 percent says it is good; 42 percent say it is bad. A quarter thinks the economy is getting better; three in 10 think it is getting worse, and 46 percent say the economy is staying about the same. These views are largely unchanged from January. The President's approval rating on handling the economy is now at 38 percent, down slightly from 42 percent in January. This is his lowest rating since last summer.

BUSH'S JOB APPROVAL ON THE ECONOMY
Approve
Now
38%
1/2005
42%

Disapprove
Now
54%
1/2005
52%

But the public is split on the President's tax cuts passed in 2001. 43 percent want to make the 2001 tax cuts permanent; 40 percent want to see them expire at the end of this year. Six in 10 Republicans side with the President and say the 2001 tax cuts should be made permanent, and 53 percent of Democrats say the tax cuts should be allowed to expire. Independents are divided.

THE 2001 TAX CUTS SHOULD BE…
Made permanent
Now
43%
1/2005
47%

Allowed to expire
Now
40%
1/2005
40%

The public doesn't necessarily side with the President on other financial domestic issues either. 51 percent think allowing people to invest their own Social Security taxes is a bad idea, while 43 percent think it is a good idea.

HEALTH CARE AND PRESCRIPTION DRUGS
When asked to volunteer the most important issue facing the country today, only 5 percent of Americans name health care. However, when they prioritize from a list of five domestic issues, health care emerges as the second most important domestic priority after jobs, and is even more important than Social Security or the budget deficit. Most Americans believe the U.S. healthcare system needs fundamental changes or needs to be completely rebuilt, as they have since this poll began asking this question in 1991.

U.S. HEALTHCARE SYSTEM NEEDS…
Minor changes
Now 13%
7/1998 13%
8/1991 7%

Fundamental changes
Now 59%
7/1998 55%
8/1991 50%

To be completely rebuilt
Now 27%
7/1998 30%
8/1991 40%

69 percent say they are very concerned about the availability and cost of health care, and another 26 percent are somewhat concerned.

While it may not reach the comparative importance of such fundamental issues as jobs and health care, Americans of all ages say reducing the cost of prescription drugs for the elderly is an important issue, when they are asked specifically about it. 64 percent say this issue matters a lot to them (including 52 percent of those under age 30), and another 26 percent say it matters some.

The Medicare prescription drug program passed by Congress last year to help senior citizens pay for prescription drugs is now estimated to cost about $750 billion, nearly twice the amount that was allocated to pay for it. Not many Americans would support reducing benefits or increasing taxes and fees to meet the shortfall; instead, 48% think Medicare ought to just absorb the extra costs.

HOW SHOULD SHORTFALL IN RX DRUG PROGRAM COSTS BE PAID FOR?
Additional taxes or fees 19%
Reduce benefits 16%
Medicare should absorb costs 48%

Few think the Medicare prescription drug program ought to include coverage for "lifestyle" drugs such as Viagra. 16 percent think Medicare should pay for such drugs, while 78 percent think Medicare recipients should pay for those drugs themselves.

SHOULD MEDICARE PROGRAM PAY FOR DRUGS LIKE VIAGRA?
Yes
16%
No
78%

Opposition to Medicare paying for drugs like Viagra is fairly widespread among demographic groups. Only 15 percent of men overall and 14 percent of men over 65 think Medicare ought to pay.

BEYOND IRAQ: OTHER FOREIGN POLICY ISSUES
Even after the President's recent trip overseas to meet with European foreign leaders, the public has doubts about how President Bush is dealing with major foreign policy issues. And as in domestic matters, most think his Administration's foreign policy goals don't match their own.

Public approval of the President's handling of foreign policy has been below 50 percent for the past year, and that trend continues in this poll; 44 percent approve, and 46 percent disapprove. In addition, fewer than half approves of his handling of relations with specific countries. 45 percent approve of his handling of Iraq, 44 percent approve of his handling of Iran, and 39 percent approve of his handling of North Korea (although nearly 3 in ten aren't able to evaluate him on the latter).

BUSH'S JOB APPROVAL ON FOREIGN POLICY ISSUES
Handling foreign policy
44%
Handling Iraq
45%
Handling Iran
44%
Handling North Korea
39%

51 percent are uneasy about the President's ability to deal wisely with an international crisis, while 47% are confident. This has changed little in the past year or so.

Given the choice between trying to change dictatorships to democracies, generally, or staying out of other countries' affairs, 59 percent think the U.S. should stay out, while less than half as many -- 27 percent -- prefer the U.S. try to change a dictatorship to a democracy where it can. However, the percentage that supports U.S. intervention is the highest it has been since April 2003, during the major combat phases of the Iraq War, when it was 29 percent.

There are concerns about other emerging foreign policy areas, too. About three in four Americans say they have heard or read at least something about North Korea and its possible development of nuclear weapons; most believe that country has developed such weapons.

HAS NORTH KOREA DEVELOPED NUCLEAR WEAPONS?
Yes 81%
No 9%

70 percent of Americans think those weapons represent a serious threat to U.S. security (including 32 percent who see it as very serious), and some even think the threat to the U.S. surpasses that of Iraq before the war. Looking back, 42 percent think the Bush Administration ought to have made dealing with North Korea's weapons development a greater priority than dealing with Saddam Hussein and Iraq, while 45 percent think Iraq was the greater priority.

SHOULD NORTH KOREA HAVE BEEN GREATER PRIORITY THAN IRAQ?
Should have been 42%
Should not have been 45%

Just under half think the Bush administration is trying hard enough to reach a diplomatic solution to North Korea's weapons development, while 40 percent think it is not. 43 percent think the U.S. ought to negotiate one-on-one with North Korea, while 48 percent think negotiations ought to include other Asian nations as well.

IS BUSH ADMINISTRATION TRYING HARD ENOUGH TO REACH DIPLOMATIC SOLUTION WITH NORTH KOREA?
Yes 47%
No 40%

There is little public support for the U.S. taking a military approach to controlling North Korea's weapons program, if diplomacy doesn't work. 59 percent would disapprove of taking military action against the country, while 33 percent would approve.

U.S. MILITARY ACTION AGAINST NORTH KOREA IF DIPLOMACY FAILS
Approve 33%
Disapprove 59%

Fewer Americans have heard much about charges that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, although two thirds say they have heard or read at least some. 69 percent believe Iran is developing nuclear weapons, and 61 percent think that represents a serious threat to U.S. security.

SOCIAL ISSUES: ABORTION, SAME SEX MARRIAGE

Abortion
Views on the issue of abortion have changed little in recent years. 35 percent of Americans now think abortion should be generally available to those that want it and another 40 percent think it should be available but under stricter limits. About a quarter thinks abortion should not be permitted at all.

ABORTION SHOULD BE…
Generally available
Now 35%
5/2004 36%
1/2003 38%

Available under stricter limits
Now 40%
5/2004 37%
1/2003 38%

Not permitted
Now 23%
5/2004 25%
1/2003 22%

As might be expected, religious service attendance strongly impacts views on the issue of abortion. 52 percent of Americans who attend religious services weekly think abortion should not be permitted. Four in 10 of those who attend less often think abortion should be generally available.

RECOGNITION OF SAME SEX COUPLES
American opinion is mixed on the matter of gay marriage, but most think there should be some legal recognition of gay couples. A quarter thinks gay couples should be allowed to marry, and another 34 percent think they should be allowed to form civil unions. On the other hand, four in 10 Americans think there should be no legal recognition at all of a gay couple's relationship.

GAY COUPLES SHOULD BE ALLOWED…
To legally marry
Now 23%
11/2004 21%

To form civil unions
Now 34%
11/2004 32%

No legal recognition
Now 41%
11/2004 44%

Views are slightly different when the phrase "same-sex couples" is used in the question in place of "gay couples." 25 percent think same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, and 28 percent think they should be allowed to form civil unions. Still, 42 percent think a same-sex couple's relationship should not be legally recognized.

Like the matter of abortion, religion is a factor here. Among those who attend religious services every week or almost every week, nearly two-thirds oppose any legal recognition of a gay couple's relationship.

FREQUENT CHURCH ATTENDEES: GAY COUPLES SHOULD BE ALLOWED…
To legally marry 9%
To form civil unions 26%
No legal recognition 64%

Americans give the Democrats an edge over the Republicans on which party comes closer to sharing their views on these social issues. On abortion, 45 percent of Americans say their views come closer to that of the Democratic Party, compared to 35 percent who choose the Republican Party. The margin is closer when it comes to the issue of gay marriage. By 43 percent to 36 percent, Democrats have only a slight edge over the Republicans.

WHICH PARTY SHARES YOUR VIEW ON …
Abortion
Democrats
45%
Republicans
35%

Same sex marriage
Democrats
43%
Republicans
36%

Referring to same sex or gay couples made almost no difference when the public was asked to assess which party they agreed with.

PRESIDENT BUSH
One month into his second term, President Bush's overall approval rating is virtually unchanged from before his second inauguration. 49 percent now approve of the job George W. Bush is doing as President, and 44 percent disapprove.

Bush's approval rating on the campaign against terrorism, his strongest trait since 9/11, went up by six points, from 56 percent in January to 61 percent today. This is his highest rating since immediately after the 2004 Republican convention.


APPROVE OF BUSH'S JOB
Overall
Now
49%
1/2005
49%

Handling terrorism
Now
61%
1/2005
56%




This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1111 adults interviewed by telephone February 24-28, 2004. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on all adults. Error for subgroups may be higher.


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

  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

Comments