Poll Shows New Gains for Bush
Despite increased uncertainty in Iraq and fierce attacks by critics over the way his administration handled the terrorist threat before Sept. 11, 2001, the survey found Bush's job approval rating has remained unchanged at 51 percent. That is lower than Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan at this point in their reelection campaign years but higher than the ratings for presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, who went on to lose their reelection bids.
On specific areas of performance, President Bush's standing with Americans was largely unchanged or up slightly from last month. A slight majority -- 54 percent -- disapproved of the way Bush is handling the economy, down from 59 percent in March. About the same proportion disapproved of the way he is handling Iraq, unchanged in the past five weeks. Slightly more than six in 10 continued to approve of the way he is handling the war on terrorism.
While public perceptions of Bush's performance on Iraq have not changed in recent weeks, the survey suggested that Americans remain deeply ambivalent about the war and the bloody and uncertain peace that has followed.
Barely half said going to war with Iraq was the right thing to do, while nearly as many -- 46 percent -- said it was a mistake. In the past year, the proportion who view the war as a mistake has tripled. Six in 10 said the United States and its coalition allies are "bogged down" in Iraq.
Just over half believed the administration does not have a clear plan to deal with the growing unrest, unchanged from March. Two in three said the number of casualties in Iraq is unacceptable, the highest reading since the war began 13 months ago.
Half said the Middle East is less stable as a consequence of the war, while a third disagreed. When asked whether the war has left the United States stronger or weaker in the world, slightly more said the United States has lost ground (35 percent) than said its international standing has strengthened (29 percent). The remainder said the war has made no difference.
But few Americans are ready to abandon Iraq. Two in three said the U.S. should stay in Iraq until order is restored, even if it means continued casualties. Only a third favored an immediate withdrawal, unchanged since late last year, while 54 percent said they would support calls from U.S. military leaders to increase the number of troops to deal with unrest in Iraq.
More than six in 10 said the United States should proceed with plans to turn over power to an interim Iraqi government on June 30, while fewer than one-third said the coalition should delay. But nearly six in 10 said the transfer will be symbolic, at best.
Meanwhile, concerns about the economy have eased slightly in the face of recent positive economic news. More than four in 10 rated the economy as "excellent" or "good," a four-point increase since early March. Still, a majority of Americans -- 57 percent -- said the country was on the "wrong track"; just over four in 10 believed it is headed in the "right direction."
The survey suggested that Bush has not been significantly harmed by the Sept. 11 hearings. A majority of Americans believed he did not do enough to follow up on intelligence signaling the possibility of a terrorist attack before Sept. 11. But 62 percent agreed with the Bush administration that those reports were "too vague" to act on.
The survey found that the public's perceptions of Kerry as a person and as a candidate have dipped significantly in the past five weeks. Fifty-five percent viewed Bush as honest and trustworthy, similar to his rating in March, but the proportion who viewed Kerry as honest has dropped 10 percentage points, to 49 percent. Nearly two-thirds saw Bush as a strong leader but barely half -- 52 percent -- had that impression of Kerry, down 9 points since March.
Nearly eight in 10 said Bush "takes a position and sticks with it." Four in 10 had that view of Kerry, who is being portrayed by Republicans as a flip-flopper on key issues such as the war in Iraq. The Democratic candidate still holds an edge on who better understands the problems of average people, but even there, Kerry's advantage over Bush has dropped from 17 to 10 points.
A total of 1,201 randomly selected adults were interviewed April 15-18 for this telephone survey. Margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Assistant polling director Claudia Deane contributed to this report.
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