WASHINGTON – The public's confidence in President Bush's job performance and the nation's direction has slipped in the opening weeks of his second term, particularly among people 50 and older, according to an Associated Press poll.
Adults were evenly divided on Bush's job performance in January, but now 54 percent disapprove and 45 percent approve. The number who think the country is headed down the wrong track increased from 51 percent to 58 percent in the past month.
The survey wasn't all bad for the Bush administration: People are slightly more optimistic about the possibility of a stable, democratic Iraq.
The poll, conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs (search), was taken after the president's State of the Union address and the elections in Iraq and at the start of a heated debate over creating personal Social Security accounts.
Older Americans, especially those 65 and above, were most responsible for the declining confidence and approval numbers. Middle-aged people between 30 and 50 were about evenly split on Bush's job performance.
"It looks like people are reacting to the State of the Union and plans to change Social Security," said Charles Franklin, a political scientist from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (search).
The AP poll did not ask about Social Security (search), although only four in 10 in the poll said they approved of Bush's handling of domestic policy in general. And a majority of people disapproved of his handling of the economy.
The AP-Ipsos consumer confidence index found people were less optimistic about the economy generally, a dip that comes after reports of sluggish job gains and increasing interest rates.
"I voted Republican, but it looks like things are going downhill," said Kenny Sproull of Lexington, Ga., who works in construction. "I'm a self-employed contractor and a lot of Mexicans are moving into the state. We can't compete with them price-wise."
Most Republicans were strongly supportive of Bush and his policies.
"I agree with almost everything President Bush says," said Beverly Bowman, a nurse who lives near Phoenix. "I think the Social Security thing has to be fixed."
The poll was a taken at a time that some leaders in both parties have begun to question elements of the president's proposal to change Social Security, said Robert Shapiro, a specialist on polling and politics at Columbia University. During that time, details of Bush's proposed 2006 budget cuts have been emerging.
A bright spot for the administration was increased confidence in the likelihood of a stable, democratic Iraq.
"From what I hear in the news, it sounds like the Iraqis really want it," said Bill Harrer, a nurse's aide in Mason City, Iowa, who considers himself a political independent. "But it's going to take a long time."
Just over four in 10, 42 percent, said they approved of the president's handling of Iraq, while 57 percent disapproved.
Since the elections that were considered fairly successful, insurgent attacks have resumed, killing both Iraqis and U.S. troops.
Many in the public are not getting the full Iraq story, said Republican William Reid of Columbus, Ohio.
Reid watches for newscasts that he says "tell the real story about the good things that are happening over there, about soldiers helping kids and giving them food."
Democrats and Republicans were sharply split on Bush and his policies.
"I'm unhappy with the whole package" of the Bush administration, said Janet Luzzi, a Democrat and a government finance director from Eureka, Calif. "The good news is that we have four more years and then we're done with him."
The poll of 1,000 adults was taken Feb. 7-9 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.