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Confidence in Bush slips further

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Confidence in Bush slips further

MSNBC staff and wire reports

Public support for President Bush is slipping on a wide range of issues, including the economy, health care and the war in Iraq, but his Democratic presidential rivals do not appear to be capitalizing, according to a national survey released Tuesday.

PUBLIC APPROVAL for Bush himself remains high, at 60 percent, in the latest survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. That was essentially unchanged from a similar survey by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal six weeks ago and down 5 points from the same Pew poll in early May.

Except for a two-week spike above 70 percent in April shortly after the end of major combat in Iraq, Bush's ratings in Pew surveys have consistently ranged from the mid-50s to the mid-60s for the past year.

But when respondents were asked about individual matters of concern, assessments of the president's performance suffered significantly in the latest poll.

Discontent with Bush's efforts to revive the economy rose from 53 percent in May to 62 percent, while 72 percent -- including 52 percent of Republicans -- said the president was not doing enough to deal with the nation's growing health care problems.

Daily violence since Bush announced an end to major combat in Iraq in March also appeared to contribute to a steady slide in public confidence in the war. Seventy-five percent said the military effort was going "very well" or "fairly well," compared with 93 percent the last time Pew asked that question, in mid-April.

Few questions about Iraq were asked in Pew's May survey, which focused more on domestic political issues.


Polling for the April survey began the day after U.S. forces, in widely televised scenes, tore down a 40-foot statue of former President Saddam Hussein in Baghdad and U.S. commanders said his reign had ended. Since then, U.S. forces have been afflicted by a series of attacks by Iraqi militant forces, who have killed 29 U.S. personnel.

A breakdown of the data on Iraq could be a troubling indicator for the administration. While three-quarters of Americans continue to believe the war effort is going "very well" or "fairly well," there has been an enormous shift between those two assessments.

In the April survey, the proportion who said the war was going "very well" was 61 percent; in the new survey, it was only 23 percent. The proportion who said it was going only "fairly well" jumped from 32 percent to 52 percent.

And almost all the rest moved into the "not well" camp, which rose from 4 percent in April to 21 percent this month. During the war, no more than 10 percent took a negative view of the military situation in Iraq.

For the new survey, Princeton Survey Research Associates questioned 1,201 adults by telephone from June 19 through last Wednesday. It reported a margin of sampling error of 3 percentage points.


The rising signs of discontent have hardly helped the Democrats.

Even though unhappiness with Bush's effort to revive the economy, a critical domestic issue for the Democrats, increased from 53 percent in May to 62 percent, only 38 percent said Democrats could do a better job on another domestic issue, health care, compared with 31 percent who picked the Republicans.

That was the smallest Democratic advantage on health care in Pew's polling since October 1994, when the Clinton administration was in the middle of what would be a failed effort to reform the health care system.

The mixed assessments contributed to the failure so far of one of the nine declared Democratic presidential candidates to break away from the pack and become established as a clear challenger. Support for the candidates largely tracked their name recognition, according to the poll.

For example, while former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean has captured headlines recently -- raising $7.5 million in three months and finishing first in an unofficial Internet "primary" -- only 37 percent of the subset of 905 registered voters in the survey said they had heard of him, and only 32 percent of those said there was a chance they would vote for him.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, the Democrats' vice presidential nominee in 2000, had the highest name recognition of the candidates, at 83 percent. Of those voters, 45 percent also said there was a chance they would vote for him.

Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, the former House Democratic leader, was known to 75 percent of the registered voters, and 45 percent of them said they might vote for him.

In fact, the Democrat who commands the most support is not running. Former Vice President Al Gore led the pack with 47 percent saying they might vote for him.

By comparison, 63 percent of the registered voters said they might vote for Bush. In the same poll at about the same time four years ago, Bush and his Republican rivals, John McCain and Elizabeth Dole, all had majorities saying they might vote for them, as did Gore and his main Democratic challenger, Bill Bradley.

"The Democratic field gets modest evaluations, even among people who know who they are," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center.

"You might expect some candidate would come to represent an alternative to the American public," Kohut said. "But that hasn't happened so far."

MSNBC.com's Alex Johnson and

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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