Poll: Iraq Taking Toll On Bush

Massachusetts State Senator Scott Brown, R-Wrentham, speaks at a rally in Wrentham, Mass., Monday, Jan. 18, 2010. AP

Growing public concern about the war in Iraq, the coming handover of power to Iraqis on June 30, and the prisoner abuse scandals there, have taken their toll on evaluations of President George W. Bush. And the last few weeks have provided no good news on the domestic front: Americans have lackluster expectations for the economy, and the new worry of rising gas prices. The President's approval rating has dropped to a new low of 41 percent, and more than six in ten say the country is heading in the wrong direction.

There is another good reason for the President's series of speeches on plans for Iraq, the first of which takes place tonight. Even though opinions of Bush's Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry, haven't changed much, Bush's troubles have given Kerry a clear lead in the horserace -- if the November election were being held today. Independent voters seem to have been especially affected. Overall, 49 percent of registered voters now say they would vote for Kerry, 41 percent for Bush.

GEORGE W. BUSH
Bush's overall job approval rating has continued to decline. 41 percent approve of the job he is doing as President, while 52 percent disapprove -- the lowest overall job rating of his presidency. Two weeks ago, 44 percent approved. A year ago, nearly two-thirds did.

BUSH OVERALL JOB APPROVAL

Approve
Now
41%
Two weeks ago
44%
5/2003
64%

Disapprove
Now
52%
Two weeks ago
49%
5/2003
29%


61 percent of Americans now disapprove of the way Bush is handling the situation in Iraq, while just 34 percent approve. This is also the lowest rating of his presidency.

BUSH'S HANDLING OF WAR IN IRAQ

Approve
Now
34%
Two weeks ago
39%
5/2003
72%

Disapprove
Now
61%
Two weeks ago
58%
5/2003
20%

As concern about the situation in Iraq grows, 65 percent now say the country is on the wrong track -- matching the highest number ever recorded in CBS News Polls since the question was first asked in the mid-1980's. Only 30 percent currently say things in this country are headed in the right direction. One year ago, in April 2003, 56 percent of Americans said the country was headed in the right direction.

DIRECTION OF THE COUNTRY

Right direction
Now
30%
4/2004
36%
4/2003
56%
11/1994
30%

Wrong track
Now
65%
4/2004
55%
4/2003
36%
11/1994
65%


The last time the percentage that said the country was on the wrong track was as high as it is now was in November 1994, as Republicans swept into control of both houses of Congress for the first time in decades.

Majorities disapprove of the way Bush is handling foreign policy and the economy. Terrorism remains the only positive area for the President -- a majority of 51 percent approve of the way he is handling the campaign against terrorism. But that number matches his lowest rating on that issue, which occurred earlier this month.

THE PRESIDENT'S RATINGS

Overall
Approve
41%
Disapprove
52%

Terrorism
Approve
51%
Disapprove
42%

Foreign policy
Approve
37%
Disapprove
56%

Economy
Approve
36%
Disapprove
57%

War in Iraq
Approve
34%
Disapprove
61%

Just 37 percent -- the lowest number in his presidency -- now approve of Bush's handling of foreign policy, while 56 percent disapprove. Bush's ratings on the economy are similar: 36 percent approve of his handling of it and 57 percent disapprove.

50 percent say the Bush Administration's policies have made the country safer from terrorism, not much changed from what people said a month ago.

THE WAR IN IRAQ
The war in Iraq clearly has turned into a liability for President Bush. Negative views of U.S. involvement there remain widespread and the public expresses little confidence in the President or his administration's ability to manage the situation. Few think the Administration has developed a clear plan for turning power over to Iraqis on June 30th -- an event most Americans think ought to happen on schedule, but probably won't.

THE JUNE 30TH HANDOVER
By a large margin, Americans think the U.S. handover of power to Iraqis should occur on June 30th, as promised by the Bush Administration. But by an even greater margin, Americans see that as unlikely. 57 percent think the turnover should take place as scheduled, but 63 percent think it will not.

HANDOVER OF POWER TO IRAQ ON 6/30:

Should happen
57%
Should not happen
34%

Will happen
29%
Will not happen
63%

Doubts about whether or not Iraqis will take control of their country on June 30th may be tied to doubts about the Bush Administration's preparation for the handover. In interviewing conducted in the four days before tonight's speech to the nation about Iraq, 60 percent think there is as yet no clear plan for the handover of power, while 24 percent think there is a plan -- fewer than thought so last month.

DOES BUSH ADMINISTRATION HAVE CLEAR PLAN FOR 6/30 HANDOVER?

Yes
Now
24%
Last month
31%

No
Now
60%
Last month
57%

Even some Republicans are dubious about the Administration's planning. 36 percent of Republicans think the Administration does not yet have a clear plan, while 47 percent think it does. Democrats are surer -- 76 percent of them think the Administration does not have a clear plan for the transfer of power.

The June 30th handover cannot come too quickly for many Americans. Nearly half think that it is time to completely pull U.S. troops out of Iraq. 49 percent want the U.S. to turn control of Iraq over to Iraqis as soon as possible, even if Iraq is not completely stable. Still, almost as many -- 45 percent -- think U.S. troops ought to stay in Iraq as long as it takes to make sure the country is a stable democracy.

U.S. TROOPS OUGHT TO:

Stay as long as it takes
45%
Turn control over to Iraqis now
49%

Republicans are among the few groups that support keeping U.S. troops in Iraq as long as it takes. Those most anxious to pull U.S. troops out soon are women, Democrats, Independents, and people over age 30. Men, veterans and military families are divided.


OVERALL VIEWS OF THE WAR
Views of the war in Iraq have been mostly negative since early April, when U.S. casualties-- both military and civilian -- began to mount. Most Americans see the war as not going well for the U.S. 60 percent think it is going somewhat or very badly, while 37 percent think it is going somewhat or very well -- just about the opposite of views last summer. Those who see it as going badly want U.S. troops out as soon as possible.

HOW IS WAR GOING FOR U.S.?

Well
Now
37%
4/2004
38%
7/2003
60%

Badly
Now
60%
4/2004
60%
7/2003
36%

Americans remain dubious about whether the war in Iraq was worth its costs, including the loss of life. The percentage that thinks it was worthwhile has risen slightly over the past two weeks, but six in ten now say it was not worthwhile.

WAS IRAQ WAR WORTH COSTS?

Yes
Now
33%
Two weeks ago
29%
4/2004
33%

No
Now
60%
Two weeks ago
64%
4/2004
58%


Nevertheless, Americans remain evenly divided as to whether invading Iraq was the right thing to do. 49 percent think it was, and 46 percent think it was not.

Americans are also divided on whether they would label American involvement in Iraq a mistake. 50 percent think it was, while 46 percent think it was not. Among Republicans, 23 percent say the war was a mistake, up from 17 percent in April.

WAS U.S. INVOLVEMENT IN IRAQ A MISTAKE?
Yes
50%
No
46%

The percentage that thinks U.S. involvement in Iraq was a mistake is far higher for this war than it was during the 1991 Gulf War. In February 1991, only 22 percent thought that war was a mistake. However, today's even division about U.S. involvement in Iraq matches the assessment the public gave to the Vietnam War in 1968. In early 1968, the Gallup Poll found the country evenly split on whether the U.S. made a mistake getting involved in Vietnam.

THE PRISONER ABUSE SCANDALS
The scandal over U.S. troops abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison remains a serious concern in the minds of more than four in five Americans. There is more suspicion of a cover-up today than there was two weeks ago, and 81 percent now say the behavior cannot be justified.

WAS ABUSE JUSTIFIED?
Yes
12%
No
81%

Most Americans continue to think that the behavior was confined to just a few soldiers, and was not widespread. 5 percent think it was limited to the few soldiers involved in these incidents, while 34 percent think it was more widespread.

The public also thinks the Pentagon has not been forthright in dealing with the situation. An increasing number of Americans believe officials at the Pentagon tried to cover up the story. 51 percent think it did so, while 39 percent think they tried to investigate what happened as quickly as possible. Almost two weeks ago, 43 percent believed the Pentagon was covering the story up.

PENTAGON'S REACTION TO ABUSE REPORTS

Tried to cover it up
Now
51%
Two weeks ago
43%

Tried to investigate quickly
Now
39%
Two weeks ago
39%

Secretary of percent approve of the job he is doing, while 46 percent disapprove.

RUMSFELD'S JOB APPROVAL
Approve
40%
Disapprove
46%

Opinion is divided on whether or not higher-level military members should be held accountable for the abuse itself. 44 percent think they should be held responsible for what happened, while 45 percent think only the soldiers involved ought to be held responsible. In the past two weeks, there has been a slight increase in the percentage that thinks higher-level members of the military ought to be held accountable for what happened, even if they were unaware of it.

WHO SHOULD BE HELD RESPONSIBLE?

Higher level military
Now
44%
Two weeks ago
40%

Only soldiers involved
Now
45%
Two weeks ago
46%


This is one area where veterans take a clearly different view. Most of those who have served in the military do think that officers higher up should take the blame.


WHO SHOULD BE HELD RESPONSIBLE?
Veterans

Higher level military
57%
Only soldiers involved
28%

This is not a story most Americans want to hear more about, however. 61 percent think the media has spent too much time on the stories of abuse, more than said so a few weeks ago.

TIME MEDIA HAS SPENT ON ABUSE STORIES

Too much
Now
61%
Two weeks ago
49%

Too little
Now
6%
Two weeks ago
6%

Right amount
Now
32%
Two weeks ago
41%


Click here for Part 2 of the poll.


  • John Esterbrook

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