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Bush Continues to Face Negative Polls on Iraq

New public opinion polls suggest President Bush still has an uphill climb in convincing the American public that he is on the right track in Iraq. The poll results are being released less than a week before Mr. Bush speaks to Congress and the nation in his annual State of the Union Address. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

The new polls include a bipartisan survey done for George Washington University and the latest survey by the USA Today newspaper and Gallup polling organization.

Both surveys show President Bush and congressional Republicans in a weakened position, primarily because of public discontent over the war in Iraq.

The USA Today-Gallup poll found that 70 percent of those asked disapproved of the president's handling of Iraq.

The George Washington University poll found that 64 percent of those surveyed believe the country is on the wrong track.

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake took part in the so-called Battleground Poll on behalf of George Washington University. She says her survey suggests Americans want changes in Iraq, but are not ready to support an immediate pull out of U.S. troops.

"It [Iraq] is listed now as the number one problem," she noted. "It clearly fuels the desire for change and people are looking dramatically to change the direction and the course in Iraq, but cautious about how to do that. Surprisingly cautious."

In fact, the Battleground Poll found Americans split on what to do in Iraq. Only 21 percent support President Bush's troop increase while 32 percent favor keeping the current level of troops until Iraq is stable. About 28 percent want U.S. troops to leave within one year and 16 percent favor an immediate withdrawal.

Republican pollster Ed Goeas also took part in the bipartisan Battleground poll. He says many Republicans made clear their desire for change in Iraq, not only in this most recent survey, but also in last November's congressional elections.

"So clearly, the war was a driving force in voter's minds, Republicans as much as independents, maybe not as much as Democrats," he said. "But certainly, 40 percent of Republicans felt that much of what this election was about was changing direction in Iraq."

President Bush is preparing for his annual State of the Union Address on Tuesday, another opportunity to sway public opinion on his new Iraq strategy, which includes an additional 21,000 troops being sent to Iraq.

Democrats and even some Republicans are warning the president that his new strategy does not have adequate public support.

Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, one of several Democrats preparing to run for president next year, says the president and members of Congress should recall the divisive experience of the Vietnam War.

"I think we all learned a lesson, whether we went or did not go, whether we were for it or against it, and that is that no foreign policy can be sustained in this country without the informed consent of the American people," he said. "They have got to sign on. They have got to sign on. I just hope it is not too late."

Some Democrats want to press for a cutoff of funding for the additional troops headed for Iraq. But experts warn that such a move could be politically risky for the new Democratic majorities in the Congress.

The director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University in Washington, James Thurber, was a recent guest on VOA's Press Conference USA program.

"It is a very tricky thing," he said. "I think the American people want us out, 75 percent in one of the latest polls want us out [within one to two years]. Seventeen percent of the American public support the so-called surge policy. So, they [the Democrats] have got the American public behind them, but they are worried. They do not want to go home to a small town in Ohio where someone has lost a soldier and say, even though we are supporting you, we are cutting off money for the troops."

Most Democrats and even a few Republicans seem to favor a non-binding resolution opposing the president's troop buildup in Iraq.

The president is busy trying to round up Republican support to block the resolution. But Mr. Bush is aware of the public pessimism on Iraq. The president had this warning for Iraqi leaders during his recent speech announcing his new Iraq strategy.

"I have made it clear to the [Iraqi] prime minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended," he said. "If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people."

Iraq has already become a major factor in the 2008 race for president, as contenders in both parties position themselves either for or against the president's new strategy.