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Bush Poll Ratings Decline Over Iraq and Rising Gas Prices


Several recent public opinion polls suggest that the violence in Iraq and rising fuel prices at home are taking a toll on President Bush's political approval ratings.

The latest Washington Post-ABC News survey found the president's job approval rating at 45 percent, an all-time low for Mr. Bush in that poll. Another recent survey by the Gallup polling organization had Mr. Bush's approval at 40 percent, also a new low for the president.

Much of the decline is attributed to public unease over the situation in Iraq. But rising fuel prices in the United States are also taking a toll on the president's popularity. The fuel situation could worsen, given the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina along the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coast, a major oil and gas-producing region.

Facing declining domestic support for the war in Iraq, Mr. Bush has embarked on a series of speeches aimed at shoring up public opinion on why the United States must finish the job there.

He recently spoke at a military ceremony in San Diego, California.

"This is the choice we face," he said. "Do we return to the pre-September the 11th mindset of isolation and retreat, or do we continue to take the fight to the enemy and support our allies in the broader Middle East? I made my decision. We will stay on the offensive. We will stand with the people of Iraq, and we will prevail."

In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, 57 percent of those surveyed disapproved of the president's handling of Iraq, while 53 percent said the war was not worth it.

Political analysts say the decline in public confidence in the president's handling of Iraq began months ago, amid a steady stream of attacks and bombings by insurgents.

"What triggered it was that long series of violent actions in Iraq, many of which having resulted in the deaths of dozens of American troops, and the war had gone on long enough, so that many Americans said, 'enough is enough.' They started to see Iraq as another Vietnam," he said.

But the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll also found that 54 percent of those surveyed believe the United States must keep military forces in Iraq, while 44 percent want them withdrawn.

Washington-based analyst Stuart Rothenberg says that reflects a certain level of ambiguity about Iraq among the American public.

"The public is very unhappy with the casualties and fatalities that we are taking, and I think people are scared with the daily reports of bombings. But, they also say it is not time to run, that this does not mean that we have to get out tomorrow. So, they are kind of grudgingly saying that we have to follow this through. But they are just not happy about the president's performance," he said.

The latest surveys show that opposition to the war has deepened among Democrats, fueled in part by the anti-war protests at the president's Texas ranch, led by Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son in Iraq last year.

"Somebody finally has to hold him accountable for what he says. The press does not do their job. It is going to take a mother from California to do your job, and hold them [Bush administration] accountable for what they say," he said.

But while support for a withdrawal may be building among grassroots Democratic activists, Democratic elected officials are by and large reacting cautiously to the military situation in Iraq.

"If we withdrew tomorrow, there would be a bloodbath in Iraq. We cannot do that. We are where we are. We have troops in Iraq at this point," North Dakota Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan appeared on Fox television.

Analyst Stuart Rothenberg says there appears to be a gap between Democratic Party politicians advising caution and grassroots activists who are demanding action.

"They [liberal activists] are miserable, they are angry, they are unhappy. They pretty much want to get out. But in terms of elected [Democratic] officials, opinion makers, opinion leaders, I think the Democrats are trying to finesse this. They do not want to appear weak as a party, or as political leaders," he said.

Analysts warn that continuing public dissatisfaction with the president's handling of Iraq could have a negative impact on other parts of his international and domestic agenda.

"At this point, nothing President Bush says is going to have much impact. The only thing that is going to change public opinion is an improvement in the situation on the ground in Iraq," said University of Virginia political expert Larry Sabato.

President Bush argues that the conflict against terrorism is the modern day equivalent of the war against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during World War II.

Anti-war protesters take issue with that view, and are planning to hold a demonstration against the Iraq war in Washington on September 24.