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Polls Show Decline in Conservative Values

Opinion polls in the United States show the public's approval of President Bush's performance is approaching a historic low for any modern president. The polls also show a decline in the public's embrace of the conservative social and economic values that have been the hallmark of Mr. Bush's Republican Party politics. The trends have political analysts in Washington and elsewhere wondering whether America is making a political left turn. VOA's Jim Fry explores the question.

When Karl Rove announced he would leave at the end of this month, the powerful White House aide faced blistering criticism.

Many U.S. news reports portrayed his departure as confirmation of the president's lame duck status. "So, I think my friend, I will be on the road behind you here in a little bit," said the president to his long-time advisor at the White House announcement.

Rove hoped President Bush would usher in a permanent Republican majority. Instead, about than one in three Americans now approve of the job Mr. Bush is doing.

Political analyst Stephen Hess says, "Yes, America is turning to the left [going more liberal] modestly at this moment."

Democrats took over Congress in January after sweeping into power in elections last November.

Yet conservative leader Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform says evidence of a leftward tilt in America is far from conclusive. "Had the Democrats won the House and the Senate by campaigning for big government, high taxes and new social programs then you would say, 'Oh my goodness, the country is moving to the left.' That is exactly what did not happen."

Indeed, some analysts, such as Stephen Hess, say the public's weariness with the Iraq war wears down support for the entire Bush agenda. "The Iraq war so permeates our society at this moment in political terms that it pulls everything else along with it."

Yet on a range of issues, such as health care, public opinion is on the move. A recent CBS-New York Times poll found nine out of 10 people want either major repairs to the health care system or a complete overhaul.

Social conservatism -- a centerpiece of the Bush political base -- is seen to be fading. The Pew Research Center has been studying values for 20 years. It found a decline in the intensity of religious beliefs and more acceptances of homosexuals.

On poverty, Pew found in the past 12 years, there has been a double-digit increase in the percentage of Americans who say government should care for those who cannot take care of themselves, even if that means incurring more debt.

And Pew found about half of Americans now see an economic system sharply divided between the haves and the have nots.

Andy Stern is president of the Service Employees International Union. He says, "People are up to their ears in debt. We have had five years -- according to the Census Bureau -- where American workers have not gotten a raise. People have less stock, less ownership in their homes because of all the home equity loans. Less personal savings than at any time in recent history. I think it is all a reaction to failure."

By a margin of more than 10 percent, people tell pollsters they want a Democrat in the White House.

By nearly as much, they say they will vote to put Democrats in Congress. Critics of polls say such findings often are meaningless until voters must choose between specific candidates.

Even if Democrats win more seats in Congress and capture the White House, Hess says fundamental change comes slowly. "Swings between Republican administration and the next Democratic administration -- assuming that I am right that there is one -- may not be as severe as many people think."

In 15 months, the American electorate might reject Republican rule entirely. But analysts liken an electoral swing to the left to a political pendulum that is continually on the move.