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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Is Bush Losing His?

As E.J. Dionne points out in his column today, Bush is now “on the defensive”.  Data from a just-released CBS News poll make clear why.  According to the poll, just 45 percent now think the US is in control of the situation in Iraq and 41 percent think the US is not; in April, 71 percent felt the US was in control only 20 thought the US was not.
Other findings underscore the increasing sourness of the public mood about Iraq.  More people now believe the Iraqi people are resentful at the US presence in Iraq (37 percent) than believe the Iraqi people are grateful to the US for removing Saddam (34 percent).  (Twenty percent say both are true).  And people are becoming more pessimistic that US troops will be able to leave anytime soon–just 13 percent now believe troops will leave in less than a year, down from 40 percent in April.
And, critically, sentiment is growing that, in one way or another, the benefits of the Iraq war have not been worth the costs.  Only 54 percent now believe removing Saddam was worth the costs, down from 65 percent in May.  And, looking at the end results of the war, not just Saddam’s removal, Americans are now split down the middle (45 percent to 45 percent) about whether these results were worth the costs.
Intriguingly, while 56 percent of men believe the results were worth the costs, just 35 percent of women feel that way.  Wow.  That’s quite a gender gap.  So much for security moms backing Bush’s policies.
The poll also finds evidence that media coverage of administration deceptions and exaggerations on Iraq’s WMDs is starting to have a substantial effect on the public.  For the first time, a majority of Americans (56 percent) now believe the administration overestimated Iraqi WMDs.  In contrast, just 30 percent believe the administration either correctly estimated or underestimated the WMDs.
Consistent with this, 56 percent now believe the administration was either hiding important elements of what it knew about Iraqi WMDs before the war (45 percent) or was mostly lying about them (11 percent).  Only 36 percent believe the administration was telling most or all of what they knew. 
As for whether we’ll ever find the elusive WMDs, just 55 percent now believe we will, down 12 points from 67 percent a month ago.  And, very significantly, the public is now split down the middle (46 percent to 46 percent) about whether the war will have been worth the costs if no WMDs are ever found.
Finally, more people (52 percent) now believe Iraq was a threat that could have been contained (43 percent) or was not a threat (9 percent) than believe it was a threat requiring immediate military action (43 percent). 
How the worm turns.  No wonder Bush’s approval rating on Iraq is down to 58 percent, a fall of 14 points from two months ago.  And his overall approval rating in this poll is down to 60 percent, a fall of 6 points in just one month.
These ratings are still higher, however, than his rating on foreign policy issues (now only 50 percent) and his rating on handling the economy (a truly abysmal 41 percent, with 46 percent disapproving). 
And what’s America’s most important problem?  The economy and jobs, by a wide margin.  And how is the economy compared to two years ago (when, it might be noted, we passed the first of Bush’s allegedly stimulative tax cut packages)?  By more than 4:1 (55 percent to 13 percent), the public says the nation’s economy is worse, rather than better.  (Another 30 percent say it is the same).
On the defensive?  I’d say so.