By GARY LANGER, ABC News Polling Director
Feb. 26, 2007 — - A record number of Americans disapprove of the war in Iraq, and a clear majority now favors the eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces, even if civil order has not been restored there -- potentially a tipping point in public attitudes on the war.
While solutions remain vexing, for the first time ABC News/Washington Post polls show a narrow majority of Americans support setting a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Two-thirds oppose George W. Bush's troop surge; most oppose it strongly.
It all makes for a continued hard slog for the president: Just 36 percent approve of his job performance overall, very near his career low of 33 percent last month. Bush hasn't seen majority approval in more than two years -- the longest run without majority support for any president since Harry Truman from 1950-53.
While rooted in Iraq, Bush's problems with credibility and confidence reach beyond it. Sixty-three percent of Americans don't trust the administration to convey intelligence reports on potential threats from other countries honestly and accurately. And 58 percent lack confidence, specifically, in its ability to handle current tensions with Iran.
Iraq Weighs on President's Popularity
Bush is paying the continued price of an unpopular war. Sixty-four percent now say the war in Iraq was not worth fighting, up six points from last month to a new numerical high. (It was 63 percent in October.) A majority hasn't said the war was worth fighting since April 2004, and it's been even longer since a majority has approved of how Bush is handling it. Sixty-seven percent now disapprove; 55 percent disapprove strongly.
In a fundamental change, 56 percent now say U.S. forces should be withdrawn at some point even if civil order has not been restored in Iraq. That represents a continued, gradual departure from the "you break it, you've bought it" sentiment that until now has mitigated in favor of continued U.S. involvement until some stability is attained.
Another part of this change has been a shift in views on setting a withdrawal date. Given pro and con positions (avoiding casualties vs. encouraging insurgents), support for a deadline has risen from 39 percent in late 2005 to 47 percent last summer and 53 percent now. That's a majority, but not a large one; 46 percent still oppose a deadline, underscoring the difficulty of finding consensus on how to get out of Iraq.
Among those who do support a deadline, 85 percent said it should be within the next year (including 46 percent who said it should be within the next six months), essentially unchanged from previous polls. (Questions on troop withdrawal deadlines depend on the options offered.)
The Blame Game: Advantage Democrats
Views on Iraq are accompanied by a broad sense that the main blame for failing to control the violence in Iraq rests with its own government (70 percent say so), not the United States (18 percent).
Indeed, two-thirds favor reducing U.S. military and financial support if the Iraqis fail to make progress restoring order -- one of the popular steps proposed by the Iraq Study Group in December, but not taken up by Bush. (Another is the group's proposal for a shift to a military training mission, with most U.S. combat forces withdrawn by early 2008; at the time of the proposal, 69 percent supported it.)
The Democrats in Congress continue to hold the upper hand on Iraq (as well as more generally), but slightly less so than last month. Then 60 percent of Americans trusted the Democrats over Bush to handle the war; today, it's 54 percent.
The current political wrangling over Iraq may be a cause, as well as an almost inevitable comedown from the Democrats' election victory in November.
While 50 percent still approve of Nancy Pelosi's work as House speaker, her disapproval is up by six points, to 31 percent. (Comparing powerful Washington women, she's bettered by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, with 58 percent approval. Both vastly outshine Bush.)
One Democratic proposal on Iraq -- to block Bush's surge by changing troop rotation rules -- wins 58 percent support. But another -- restricting funding for the war in an effort to block the surge -- is more divisive, with 46 percent in favor and a slim majority, 51 percent, opposed. Military funding is sensitive with troops in the field.
The Democrats continue to lead Bush in other areas as well, including a 52-39 percent advantage in trust to handle terrorism (once Bush's cornerstone issue, a majority has disapproved of his work on terrorism steadily since October). The Democrats lead by wider margins in trust to handle the economy, despite its relatively good condition; the federal budget; and health care, with no gain for Bush from his State of the Union proposal to move health insurance tax breaks from corporations to individuals.
The public divides about evenly on whether or not the administration has solid evidence that Iran is supporting insurgent attacks on U.S. forces.
As noted, though, more broadly, 63 percent don't trust the administration to report intelligence on threats from foreign nations honestly and accurately. That lack of trust can make it very hard to marshal public support when needed.
Nearly six in 10 also say they're not confident the administration will do a good job of handling the tensions with Iran. Just 11 percent are very confident it will handle this issue well; three times as many, 34 percent, are not confident at all.
Underscoring his problems, even among Republicans, just 28 percent are very confident in Bush's ability to deal with Iran, while among Democrats, 55 percent have no confidence whatsoever.
The Fight for Afghanistan
Views on the war in Afghanistan stand in contrast to those on Iraq.
A majority of Americans, 56 percent, say the war in Afghanistan was worth fighting, 22 points more than say that about the Iraq War.
But given broader, negative sentiment, there's hardly robust support for expanded U.S. commitment in Afghanistan: Six in 10 say the United States is "doing enough" to help rebuild that county.
If there's a strong case for expanded U.S. support for Afghanistan, as the administration has proposed, most Americans haven't been persuaded.
Longest Streak Since Truman
As noted, Bush hasn't received majority approval in any ABC/Post poll in the last two years -- specifically in 25 months, since Jan. 16, 2005.
Compared with ABC/Post polls since the Reagan presidency, and Gallup polls before them, that's the longest run with less than majority approval for any president since Truman.
It's worth noting not just the length and breadth but also the continued depth of Bush's unpopularity. Barely two in 10 Americans (19 percent) strongly approve of his job performance, while 49 percent strongly disapprove.
As noted, 55 percent strongly disapprove of his work on Iraq, while just 17 percent strongly approve. And in a more personal measure, 29 percent are "angry" about the administration's work in Iraq, while just 7 percent are pleased.
And beyond customary partisanship, there are other sharp differences between groups, though partisanship fuels some of them.
Among blacks, for example, just 9 percent approve of Bush's job performance, and just 11 percent say that, given its costs versus benefits, the war was worth fighting.
This is largely (but not exclusively) because blacks overwhelmingly are Democrats. (Among Democrats, 8 percent approve of Bush, and the same number call the war worth fighting.)
In addition to blacks, sentiment against the war peaks among women and young adults. Sixty-three percent of women and 67 percent of people under 30 favor withdrawing U.S. forces even if civil order is not restored. Many fewer men (48 percent) or older adults (53 percent) agree.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Feb. 22-25, 2007, among a random national sample of 1,082 adults, including an oversample of black respondents. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, PA.
ABC News polls can be found on ABCNEWS.com at http://abcnews.com/pollvault.html.