As the White House searches for a way to move forward in Iraq after the midterm elections and the Iraq Study Group's recent recommendations, the American public has grown increasingly pessimistic that the war there can be won, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds.
Nearly seven in 10 respondents say they feel less confident the war will come to a successful conclusion. What's more, two-thirds believe the United States is already doing all it can to reduce the violence there. And a majority even says the U.S. doesn't have an obligation to killed or wounded American soldiers to remain in Iraq until the mission there is completed.
"For the public, there is no confidence left," says Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican Bill McInturff. "It is just not going to happen — that we're not going to be victorious, that we're not going to be able to stay the course, that we're not going to be able to have a successful conclusion to the war."
Poll statistics and timing
The poll — which was taken of 1,006 adults from Dec. 8-11, and which has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points — comes a month after Democrats won control of Congress in the midterms, due in part to the public's dissatisfaction with the Iraq war. It also comes a week after the bipartisan Iraq Study Group recommended that U.S. forces there should shift from combat roles to training Iraqis, and that combat brigades could be withdrawn by 2008.
And, in the wake of continued violence, it comes as the White House has announced President Bush would delay presenting any new strategy regarding Iraq until early next year.
"As I announced yesterday, I will be delivering my plans after a long deliberation," Bush said on Wednesday after meeting with Pentagon officials, "I will not be rushed into making a difficult decision ... a necessary decision."
Confidence, effort and obligation
According to the survey, 69 percent say they are less confident that the war will come to a successful conclusion, while just 19 percent — a new low in the NBC-Journal poll on this question — say they're more confident. Moreover, 65 percent believe the U.S. is already doing everything it can to reduce the violence there. Only 25 percent think this country can do more.
Perhaps more revealing, 53 percent say that the United States does not have an obligation to the killed or wounded American soldiers to complete the mission in Iraq.
Only 23 percent approve of Bush's handling of Iraq — his lowest mark on this question and an 11-point drop since the last NBC/Journal poll in late October. Even a third of Republicans say they disapprove of the way in which Bush is dealing with Iraq.
Bush's overall job approval rating is 34 percent, which is another all-time low for the president in the poll.
Hart, the Democratic pollster, cautions the election results from last month might be skewing some of these numbers. "Polls such as this tend to overstate the strength of the victor and understate the position of the loser."
But McInturff adds that the survey is a warning sign for the White House and a Republican Party that begins to look toward 2008. "This is an electorate that is still very grouchy."
As further evidence of that, the poll also finds that 59 percent want the incoming Democratic-controlled Congress to take the lead in setting policy for the country, compared with just 21 percent who want President Bush in charge. "Those numbers are really stunning," McInturff says. "It suggests a presidency that has been whittled down to the ultimate core."
The politics of 2008
Regarding the next presidency, however, the poll suggests that the 2008 field is open — but it's led by a few familiar politicians. U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., leads the Democratic pack as the choice of 37 percent of Democrats. U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., follows her at 18 percent. Next is former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards at 14 percent, and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry at 11 percent.
In the GOP field, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads the way as the choice of 34 percent of Republicans. He's narrowly followed by U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., at 29 percent, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 10 percent, and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 8 percent.
In some head-to-head match ups, McCain leads Clinton by four points (47 to 43 percent) and Obama by five points (43 percent to 38 percent). But — in an interesting twist — the Arizona senator trails Edwards by two points (43 percent to 41 percent).
Mark Murray covers politics for NBC News.