Bush’s support erodes

The Columbus Dispatch – September 9, 2007

America prepares to hear a long-awaited progress report on Iraq and mark another 9/11 anniversary, central Ohioans’ disdain for their president and his war stands at an all-time high.

In the heart of this political battleground state, renowned as a test market for the nation, most people don’t just pan President Bush’s job performance and his handling of Iraq. For the first time, a majority “strongly” disapproves of both.

The latest in a series of polls conducted for The Dispatch by Saperstein Associates shows almost a complete reversal from the spring of 2003, when Bush enjoyed a 61 percent approval rating and support for the new war was running more than 2 to 1.

Now, more than two-thirds either want the troops brought home as soon as possible or a timetable set for their withdrawal. A majority supports removing U.S. combat forces by next spring, much as congressional Democrats are likely to propose this month.

One out of four says the troop surge is making things better in Iraq.

Bush seems stuck on 28: That’s the percentage of those polled who say American troops should remain until Iraq is stabilized, who think the war has been worth the cost in lives and dollars, and who approve of his handling of the war — all new lows in Saperstein’s regular surveys. It’s also the percentage who think the performance of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney will help Republicans in next year’s presidential campaign; 42 percent say they will drag down the 2008 GOP nominee.

Martin D. Saperstein, president of the Columbus polling firm, said that while military successes stemming from the troop surge could improve public opinion about the war, most Americans have run out of patience.

“I think people in increasing numbers have lost the belief that the situation in a finite amount of time will become stabilized,” he said. “When people see the same thing year after year, they get discouraged.”

The telephone poll of 400 randomly selected adults with Columbus phone exchanges was conducted from Aug. 28 through Monday. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. The response rate was 24 percent.

The blizzard of bad news for Bush is fueled by the growing number of Republicans abandoning their president, Saperstein said. Of GOP respondents, 30 percent now disapprove of Bush’s overall job, 35 percent of his handling of Iraq.

Bush is losing central Ohio voters such as Willie Alls Jr., a poll participant who supported the president’s re-election in 2004. But mainly because of his disgust with how Bush has handled the Iraq war, Alls, 59, a computer professional, has switched his political affiliation to independent and wants the U.S. to get out of Iraq — quickly.

Alls said he supported Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq, agreeing with the initial declaration that Saddam Hussein was a threat because he had weapons of mass destruction. But Alls’ support evaporated because of what he regards as a parade of shifting war rationalizations, from regime change to the need to establish a democracy.

“I know President Bush is saying things are going well,” Alls said. “But if you look at other independent reports, things aren’t going well. I don’t see how they can say progress is being made. We ought to start an immediate, phased withdrawal and get all the troops out.”

Alls said he will remain a critic even if this week’s much-anticipated update by the U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. David Petraeus, paints a picture of progress.

“The report coming out … from Petraeus is not going to be accurate and tell the whole story,” Alls said. “It will be a rose-colored scenario to buy more time.”

Hanging with the president are GOP loyalists such as Mark Anderson, 46, of Reynoldsburg. The state worker acknowledges that “everything hasn’t gone perfect” in Iraq. “Things could have been done different.”

But in general, he said, “I agree with what is being done. We can’t just run in and run out.”

Stay-at-home mom Jennifer Mitchell, 35, is an independent who voted for Al Gore in 2000 and Bush in 2004. She still is behind Bush even though he “has had some poor advice” on Iraq. “The problems there are thousands of years old and aren’t going to be fixed in a heartbeat.”

She also agrees with Bush that military commanders should decide when to reduce force levels in Iraq. “I trust their judgment more than the Democrats in Congress.”

Respondent Doug Bryant, 45, an unemployed New Albany resident, called the Iraq war a “bad idea gone wrong. It’s not getting any better.”

Bryant, an independent, said he believed the president’s rationale for invading Iraq in 2003 but now says that Bush “should be impeached. This is going to set back American foreign policy for at least a generation, if not more.”