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Iraq Pessimism Hurts Bush, Boosts Democrats

By JOHN HARWOOD/Wall Street Journal
March 15, 2006 7:40 p.m.

WASHINGTON -- Pessimism about the Iraq war has driven President Bush's approval rating to his lowest ever and improved Democratic prospects in fall mid-term elections, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows.

In the wake of mounting civil strife triggered by the recent bombing of a Shiite mosque, nearly six in 10 Americans now describe themselves as "less confident" the war will end successfully. That's up from five in 10 in December. And 61% now say it's time to reduce U.S. troop levels in Iraq.

Those negative assessments in turn have eroded support for Mr. Bush and for continued Republican control of Congress. Just 37% of Americans approve of Mr. Bush's job performance, while 58% disapprove. It's the fifth consecutive Journal/NBC survey in which the president drew support below 40%.

Eight months before the fall mid-term elections, Democrats have opened a wide lead -- 50%-37% -- in voter preferences for which party should control Congress. Democrats need a net gain of 15 House seats and six Senate seats to achieve majorities in both chambers.

Iraq has combined with other public relations setbacks, from the handling of Hurricane Katrina to the recent Dubai ports controversy, to sour Americans' mood overall. Fully 62% of respondents say the country is headed "off on the wrong track," more than double the 26% who say the country is headed "in the right direction."

Moreover, Americans aren't sanguine that the Bush administration will recover its political strength soon. Some 26% say the president is facing "a short-term setback," while 58% characterize his predicament as "a longer-term setback from which things are unlikely to get better."

The telephone survey of 1,005 American adults was conducted March 10-13 by the polling organizations of Democrat Peter Hart and Republican Bill McInturff. The margin of error is 3.1 percentage points.

Write to John Harwood at john.harwood@wsj.com

  URL for this article:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114246476954299393.html
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