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11-12-2005, 03:10 PM
Autumn of Discontent
The latest NEWSWEEK poll shows serious political trouble for President Bush.


By Marcus Mabry
Updated: 2:00 p.m. ET Nov. 12, 2005

Nov. 12, 2005 - In the wake of the bombings in Jordan by suspected followers of Iraq’s Al Qaeda chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the indictment of top White House aide I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby and the withdrawal of Harriet Miers’s nomination to the Supreme Court, President George W. Bush is sinking deeper and deeper into political trouble, according to the latest NEWSWEEK poll. Only 36 percent of Americans approve of the job he is doing as president, and an astounding 68 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the direction of the country—the highest in Bush’s presidency. But that’s not the worst of it for the 43rd president of the United States, a leader who rode comfortably to reelection just a year ago. Half of all Americans now believe he’s not “honest and ethical.”

Now is the autumn of Bush’s discontent, according to the NEWSWEEK poll, taken by phone of 1,002 Americans over Thursday and Friday nights. The president can take some solace in the fact that 42 percent of Americans believe he is honest and ethical. Only 29 percent believe that Vice President Dick Cheney is. And more than a quarter of Republicans, 26 percent, believe the vice president is not honest and ethical. The growing credibility gap could have ramifications across the president’s agenda: 56 percent of Americans say Bush “won’t be able to get much done;” only 36 percent say he “can be effective.”

After months of taking a pounding, the president tried to regain the political momentum this week. In a Veterans Day address on Friday he accused critics of his Iraq policies of sending “the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America’s will.” But Democrats aren’t the only ones questioning the administration’s Iraq policies—almost 2 in 3 Americans (65 percent) disapprove of the president’s handling of Iraq.

And that links directly to the credibility issue. Fifty-two percent of Americans believe Cheney “deliberately misused or manipulated pre-war intelligence about Iraq’s nuclear capabilities in order to build support for war,” including 22 percent of Republicans and 54 percent of independents.

Most worrisome for the White House: the base seems to be cracking. When asked whether anyone in the administration “acted unethically” in the case involving the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame’s name, a 54-percent majority of Americans said they did—and 30 percent of Republicans said they did. And 45 percent of Americans believe someone in the “Bush administration broke the law and acted criminally”—including 22 percent of Republicans.

In the realm of Supreme Court appointments, the Miers muddle has taken a toll. The public is split (42 percent approve; 42 percent disapprove) on Bush’s nominations. The good news for the White House is that 40 percent think Samuel Alito should be confirmed. Twenty-six percent oppose Alito and 34 percent remain undecided.

Coming on the heels of Democratic wins in closely watched gubernatorial races in (Blue) New Jersey and (Red) Virgina this week, all of this has got to worry Republican leaders contemplating next year’s elections. When NEWSWEEK asked registered voters whether they planned to vote for a Democrat or a Republican in those elections, 53 percent said a Democrat and 36 percent said a Republican. It’s a long way from now to next year’s Congressional contests. But no one knows better than the president how much things can change in a year.

Bush’s new approval low of 36 percent in the NEWSWEEK poll equals the low point of Bill Clinton’s presidency in May 1993, when the former president hit 36 percent. The 41st president, George H.W. Bush, hit his lowest ratings late in 1992 before he was defeated by Clinton. A Gallup poll in July 1992 recorded a 32 percent approval rate for the first President Bush. But other presidents have fared worse. Jimmy Carter scored 28-29 percent in June and July 1979, according to Gallup. President Richard Nixon’s Gallup number dropped to 24 percent in August 1974.

For the NEWSWEEK poll, Princeton Survey Research Associates International interviewed 1,002 adults aged 18 and older between Nov. 10-11 by telephone. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.