WASHINGTON — When President Bush delivers his next-to-last State of the Union address Tuesday night, he will confront this reality, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll: Nearly two-thirds of Americans appear to have given up on success in Iraq and also on his presidency.
In addition, the poll finds that nearly another two-thirds believe he shouldn’t move ahead with his troop increase to Iraq, if Congress passes a non-binding resolution opposing it. And it shows that just two in 10 want Bush taking the lead role in setting policy for the country.
“Essentially, the president is really in the cellar of public opinion,” says Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this poll with Republican Bill McInturff. “As he faces the audience for his State of the Union, he’s going to find a mood dramatically different to the mood that greeted him at his second inaugural.”
McInturff adds that he sees little chance for Bush, in his speech, to win over skeptical Americans on major policies like Iraq. “There is only a limited to modest capacity to change people’s opinions.”
Job approval stays the same — low
In the survey, Bush’s job approval rating stands at 35 percent, which is virtually unchanged from December, when it sank to 34 percent — the lowest mark of his presidency. In the NBC/Journal poll taken right before his second inaugural address, 50 percent said they approved of his job performance.
Perhaps more significant, a whopping 65 percent believe that Bush is facing a longer-term setback from which he’s unlikely to recover. That’s compared with 25 percent who think he’s facing just a short-term setback, and 7 percent who believe he’s facing no setback at all.
What’s more, only 22 percent say they want the president taking the lead in setting policy for the nation. Fifty-seven percent say they would prefer the Democratic-controlled Congress holding the reins.
Support for the commander in chief
“The public really says, ‘I just think it’s over,’” Hart says of Bush’s presidency. “If we had a British parliamentary system, there would be a call for a vote of no confidence. Essentially what the poll is, is a vote of no confidence.”
The survey — which was conducted Jan. 17-20 of 1,007 adults, and which has a margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points — also comes after Bush declared in a Jan. 10 prime-time address that he is sending more than 20,000 additional U.S. soldiers to Iraq. In response, Democrats and even some Republicans have proposed non-binding resolutions opposing such an increase, and other critics have called for cutting funding to pay for these additional troops.
According to the poll, 65 percent believe that Bush should not move ahead with his troop increase if Congress passes a resolution opposing it; just 30 percent think he should go ahead it with it anyway.
But 52 percent say they would oppose cutting funding for additional troops, while 41 percent say they would favor it. These two sets of numbers, Hart says, send a warning to Congress. “You can go this far” — by passing a non-binding resolution — “but not further.”
Regardless of what action Congress takes concerning Bush’s troop increase, the poll shows that most Americans believe the outcome in Iraq has already been decided. Sixty-five percent say the United States will have to withdraw and leave Iraq without a stable democratic government there. By comparison, only 27 percent say the U.S. will prevail and leave Iraq with a stable government.
“I think our country has come to a public judgment” on Iraq, McInturff observes. “And it’s a very pessimistic one.”
Mark Murray covers politics for NBC News.
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