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Bush honesty rating drops to lowest point

NBC and the Wall Street Journal have released their latest poll.  NBC's Mark Murray reports.

The last two weeks certainly have been eventful ones in America and across the globe: President Bush gave a prime-time speech on Iraq and attended a G-8 summit in Scotland; Sandra Day O’Connor announced her retirement from the Supreme Court (with perhaps another retirement on the way); and suicide bombers killed approximately 50 people in London. After these events, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that Bush’s overall job rating has slipped and that his rating for being “honest and straightforward” has dropped to its lowest point.

Regarding Bush’s upcoming pick to replace O’Connor on the court, moreover, the poll shows that strong majorities believe Bush would be taking a step in the right direction if he appointed a woman and someone who supports references to God in public life. But a majority also thinks that Bush would take a wrong step if he chose someone who would vote to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

The survey, which was conducted from July 8-11 among 1,009 adults, and which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, finds that respondents, by a 49 percent-to-46 percent margin, disapprove of Bush’s job performance. That’s a drop from the last NBC/Journal poll in May, when 47 percent approved and 47 percent disapproved. In addition, the only time when Bush’s job rating has been worse was in June 2004, when 45 percent approved of his performance.

Furthermore, only 41 percent give Bush good marks for being “honest and straightforward” — his lowest ranking on this question since he became president. That’s a drop of nine percentage points since January, when a majority (50 percent to 36 percent) indicated that he was honest and straightforward. This finding comes at a time when the Bush administration is battling the perception that its rhetoric doesn’t match the realities in Iraq, and also allegations that chief political adviser Karl Rove leaked sensitive information about a CIA agent to a reporter. (The survey, however, was taken just before these allegations about Rove exploded into the current controversy.)

“It’s a bad period for the president,” said Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted the survey with Republican Bill McInturff. Hart attributes Bush’s problems to “one part the economy, two parts Iraq, and one part everything else.” In fact, he is somewhat surprised that Bush’s ratings didn’t increase slightly after the London attacks. “I am sort of surprised we don’t see more a skew toward rallying around anti-terrorism.”

But McInturff sees Bush’s poll numbers as part of a broader indictment against all of Washington and politics as usual. “These are problematic numbers, but there are a lot of indications that the other option — the Democratic Party — is also in a much weaker position than it started the year.” He adds that the public’s negative attitude toward Washington could intensify if Democrats and Republicans begin battling over Bush’s eventual choice to replace O’Connor on the Supreme Court. “This is a very difficult climate to begin [that] conversation,” McInturff said.

Also according to the poll, the public ranks the war in Iraq as the top priority the federal government should address, followed by job creation and then homeland security. In January’s NBC/Journal poll, the economy ranked first — followed by Iraq and then homeland security.

On Bush’s upcoming pick for the Supreme Court, strong majorities believe Bush would be making a positive step if he appointed a justice who continues to allow references to God in public life (63 percent), who is a woman (60 percent), and who upholds affirmative action laws and policies (55 percent). However, 50 percent think Bush would be making a mistake if his choice changes the court’s balance on Roe v. Wade. “There are chunks of people who are certainly right-to-life who are willing to leave [Roe v. Wade] alone,” McInturff explained.

The poll also notes that 41 percent (vs. 30 percent) want Bush to appoint a strong conservative to the court, while a nearly equal proportion (40 percent to 25 percent) would like for him to take into consideration the views of secular and liberal groups.

Mark Murray covers politics for NBC News.