BUSH
Pablo Martinez Monsivais  /  AP
As President Bush and first lady Laura Bush prepare for his inauguration, he faces the task of governing a nation divided on important issues.
By
NBC News
updated 1/20/2005 7:00:20 AM ET 2005-01-20T12:00:20

As hundreds of thousands of Americans gather in Washington for President Bush’s inauguration, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows Bush with his highest approval rating in months. But it also finds that many Americans still have doubts about the war in Iraq and whether Bush has a mandate to revamp Social Security.

“He leads a very divided nation,” said Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who, along with Republican pollster Bill McInturff, conducted this survey. “I think it’s going to be a lot for him to handle.”

Fifty percent of respondents in the poll — which was taken of 1,007 adults Jan. 13-17, and which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points — say they approve of Bush’s job as president, compared with 44 percent who disapprove. That’s Bush’s highest approval mark since March 2004 — before the Abu Ghraib prison abuse photos rocked the political world in April.

Ratings on economy inch higher
Bush’s job rating on the economy also inched up in this latest survey. Forty-seven percent say they approve of Bush’s job with the economy, vs. an equal 47 percent who say they disapprove. In last month’s poll, by comparison, only 44 percent said they approved, while 51 percent said they disapproved.

But the president’s numbers on two of today’s most important political issues — Iraq and Social Security — aren’t nearly as rosy. With elections in Iraq scheduled to take place in just 10 days, only 40 percent of respondents say that removing Saddam Hussein was worth the casualties and costs of the war, while 52 percent argue it wasn’t worth it. That’s a slight change from the last poll in December, when 43 percent said removing the former Iraqi dictator was worth it, and 48 percent said it wasn’t.

In addition, asked whether Bush has a mandate after his re-election to push for Social Security reform allowing workers to invest some of their payroll taxes in the stock market, 56 percent say he doesn’t have a mandate, vs. 33 percent who think he does. Also, only 14 percent agree with Bush’s opinion that Social Security’s financial situation today is in a “crisis.”

Finally, the public seems to expect congressional Democrats to act as a counterweight to the Republican Party’s legislative priorities. According to the poll, 57 percent believe that Democrats should provide a balance in Congress so Bush and the Republicans don’t go too far. That’s compared with 33 percent who believe instead that Democrats should work in a bipartisan way to pass Bush’s legislative goals.

No clean slate
These mixed results — Americans who approve of Bush’s job, yet who cast doubts on the Iraq war and his plans for Social Security, and who also want Democrats to provide a balance to the GOP’s legislative priorities — seem to suggest that Bush’s inauguration doesn’t necessarily provide him a fresh start. Indeed, according to the poll, only 20 percent of respondents say they feel he has a clean slate when he begins his second term; 69 percent, meanwhile, say they will evaluate him based on their past feelings.

“It is not a second term,” said Republican pollster McInturff. “It is just a continuation of where we were.”

Mark Murray covers politics for NBC News.

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