As President George W. Bush prepares to begin his second term (search), majorities of Americans approve of the job he’s doing as president and have a favorable opinion of him as a person.

The latest FOX News national poll finds 52 percent of the public approve and 41 percent disapprove of Bush’s overall job performance. The president’s approval rating is up 4 percentage points since mid-December and also bests his 2004 average (49 percent approve, 43 percent disapprove).

As has been the case for at least the last year, Bush’s job rating continues to show a huge partisan divide: 89 percent of Republicans approve, compared to 17 percent of Democrats and 48 percent of independents.

The average job rating for President Bush’s complete first term is 61 percent approve and 29 percent disapprove. He received his highest approval rating, 88 percent, in the weeks following the 9/11 terrorist attacks (November 2001), while his lowest (44 percent) came in August 2004, soon after the Democratic National Convention (search) was held nominating Mass. Sen. John Kerry.

Fifty-three percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Bush, making this his highest favorable rating in almost a year.

Opinion Dynamics Corporation (search) conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News on January 11-12.

The poll finds 48 percent approve and 41 percent disapprove of Vice President Dick Cheney’s job performance, and 42 percent approve and 42 percent disapprove of the job Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is doing.

While about half of Americans think things in the country are worse today than five years ago, majorities are optimistic about how things are going in the country right now, as well as about life in the future. More than 6 in 10 say they are optimistic about things in the United States today (down 9 percentage points from a year ago), and 33 percent are pessimistic.

When asked to think ahead five years from now, 51 percent think the life of the average American will be better than it is today, 31 percent say worse and 7 percent say the same. Republicans (72 percent) are twice as likely as Democrats (36 percent) to say life will be better; almost half of Democrats think life will be worse five years from now.

Public opinion is split on how President Bush is handling the economy (46 percent approve and 46 percent disapprove), and on handling the situation with Iraq 44 percent approve and 51 percent disapprove. The economy and Iraq far outpace every other issue when people are asked to cite (spontaneously, without being read a list) what the top priority for the president’s second term should be.

“It is interesting that the president’s overall ratings are higher than his ratings on the two most important specific issues,” comments Opinion Dynamics President John Gorman. “He has managed to maintain a reservoir of good will with enough of the voters that they are willing to endorse him without necessarily liking what he is doing. While a large minority of the country is sharply critical, he has managed to hold on to a majority of the electorate.”

A 54 percent majority thinks it is likely the Iraqi elections will successfully be held on January 30 as scheduled — results which are almost identical to those from October 2004. However, more than twice as many people think there will be more violence (56 percent) rather than less violence (22 percent) in Iraq after the elections are held. Opinion is almost evenly divided on whether the United States should “stay in Iraq to win the war” or “get out of Iraq to end the war” (46 percent to 45 percent respectively).

Nearly 6 in 10 Americans say they are personally committed to winning the war on terrorism “no matter what it takes.” In addition, more than two-thirds (68 percent) think the United States must win the war on terrorism while fewer than one in five (18 percent) think the country can “coexist” with terrorists.

A 43 percent plurality thinks the recent Palestinian elections are more likely to bring about peace than violence (33 percent) in the Middle East. While only about a third (31 percent) think there will ever be peace in the Middle East, that is up from 23 percent the last time the question was asked in June 2003.

U.N. Oil-for-Food Program

Earlier this week several audits showing mismanagement of the United Nations’ Oil-for-Food program were released by the Volcker commission (headed up by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker), which is investigating allegations of corruption in the program. A 58 percent majority of Americans say they are familiar with the corruption charges, up from 45 percent in May 2004.

Of those familiar with the charges, just over half (52 percent) think Kofi Annan should resign as secretary general of the United Nations, down 9 percent since May.

• Pdf: Click here for full poll results.