WASHINGTON – President Bush's job approval has risen past 70 percent as the war in Iraq winds down, but remains far below his father's level after the Persian Gulf War, largely because of partisan differences in feelings about the current president, a poll indicates.
Bush's approval rating was at 72 percent in a poll released Friday by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. His father's rating rose to 89 percent after the first Gulf War in 1991.
"Even after the success of the war, there's a lot more partisanship than there was toward his father," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center.
Republicans solidly approve of the president's performance, with more than 9 in 10 backing the job he's doing, about the same number who felt that way about his father after the first Iraq war.
Just over half of Democrats approve of the president's job performance, 52 percent, while 39 percent disapprove. Almost three-fourths of Democrats approved of the father's job performance soon after the earlier war.
And the president's job approval by independents is lower this time around, 68 percent compared with 83 percent who approved of the father in 1991.
The president "is a more divisive figure than his father was to the Democrats," Kohut said.
The end of the war has returned public focus to economic issues. Those issues were seen as the most important problem facing the country for 41 percent, while 29 percent chose defense and terrorism issues. In February, more than half chose defense and terrorism issues, while three in 10 chose economic issues.
Just under half in the poll, 48 percent, said they would like to see Bush re-elected president in 2004, with a third saying they want to see a Democrat win. Before the war, people were about evenly split on that question.
Democratic presidential candidates are struggling to get the public's attention in a time of war. Only a third of the poll respondents could offer a name when asked who is running for the Democratic nomination in 2004 — about the same level as in January. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman were the best-known of the candidates, with about one in 10 people familiar with each of them, while others lagged behind. One in 10 Democrats, 9 percent, also named Al Gore, the 2000 Democratic nominee, who is not running this time.
The public's view of the Republican Party is slightly more favorable, 63 percent, than its view of the Democrats, 57 percent.
While Republicans almost unanimously support the war, Democrats are more divided, with 60 percent supporting and 31 percent opposing.
The poll of 924 adults was taken April 10-16 and had an error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points.