updated 12/10/2004 8:59:24 AM ET 2004-12-10T13:59:24

Americans’ confidence that a stable, democratic government can be established in Iraq has eroded since last spring, according to an Associated Press poll taken amid continuing violence ahead of next month’s election.

Public support for Bush’s handling of the Iraq war has edged up over the past six months, however.

Fewer than half, 47 percent, think it’s likely Iraq will be able to establish a stable government, according to the poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs. A little more than half, 51 percent, said they think it’s not likely.

In April, 55 percent said they believed a stable, Democratic government probably would be established in Iraq, and 44 percent thought it was not likely.

Some of those who have doubts acknowledge they still see a stable Iraq as an important goal.

“Once you made that initial step, you can’t backtrack,” said Richard Bates, 50, a Democrat who works at a steel mill near Pittsburgh. “But I’m concerned Iraq is going to become another Vietnam.”

Those most likely to have lost faith in the chances of a stable, democratic Iraq are those with college degrees, Southerners, city-dwellers, homeowners, Catholics, independents and Democrats.

Asked whether Iraq will be able to establish a stable democracy, Susan Welch of Jasper, Ga., was quick to say: “No way.”

“I don’t think that President Bush started off with the right attitude — you cannot beat people into freedom,” said Welch, a political independent and a part-time postal carrier.

Bush approval is up
People were about evenly divided on the president’s handling of Iraq, with 48 percent approving and 50 percent disapproving. That’s up from June, when 43 percent approved and 55 percent disapproved.

“I have no problem with the president’s handling of Iraq,” said Donna Baker, a 56-year-old Republican from Robinson Creek, Ky. “I haven’t heard any plan better.”

Baker said she expects the election in Iraq to go off as planned Jan. 30, though not without problems. The establishment of a stable democracy in Iraq will take time, she said.

Rising violence in recent weeks suggests her concerns are well-founded.

A series of attacks in recent days have killed more than 80 Iraqis, mostly members of the country’s fledgling security forces. Iraqi and U.S. officials have insisted next month’s elections will go ahead despite the violence and the fact that some insurgent strongholds have been too dangerous for voter registration to begin.

Along with their doubts about Iraq, Americans continue to worry about the direction of this country.

More than half, 52 percent, still think the United States is on the wrong track, while 43 percent think it’s headed in the right direction. The pessimistic mood has lingered since January, when people were about evenly split on the country’s direction soon after the capture of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Bush’s overall job approval in the poll among registered voters was at 51 percent, with 47 percent disapproving, about the same as in November right after his re-election.

Economy, foreign policy, terrorism
People were about evenly split on Bush’s handling of the economy and of other domestic issues, with 48 percent approving and 50 percent disapproving.

The president got some of his strongest ratings for his handling of foreign policy and terrorism, with 53 percent approving and 45 percent disapproving.

For retiree Graham Haddock, Bush will need patience to accomplish his goals in Iraq.

“I feel like it’s going to take a long time,” said Haddock, a retiree who lives in rural Indiana near the Kentucky state line. “I really don’t know if it’s worth the money they’re spending. If they can make peace over there, get that oil on the world market, it might help. But it may take five or six years.”

The AP-Ipsos poll of 1,000 adults, including 845 registered voters, was taken Dec. 6-8 and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for all adults, 3.5 percentage points for registered voters.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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