By a significant margin the public views the removal of Terri Schiavo's (search) feeding tube as an act of mercy rather than an act of murder, according to the latest FOX News poll.

The new poll — taken prior to Schiavo's death — finds that a 54 percent majority sees the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube as "an act of mercy" and almost a third see it as "an act of murder" (29 percent), 7 percent say "neither" and 11 percent are unsure.

Earlier in the month, 59 percent of Americans said they would remove her feeding tube if they were Terri's guardian and 24 percent would keep it inserted (March 1-2).

Among those most likely to believe removing the feeding tube was an act of murder are blacks (50 percent), Republicans (39 percent), conservatives (38 percent) and those under age 30 (35 percent). At 67 percent, self-identified liberals are most likely to call it an act of mercy, as do clear majorities of Democrats (60 percent), men (58 percent) and independents (56 percent).

Beliefs on what should have happened in the Schiavo case appear to be closely tied to what respondents would want to happen to them under similar circumstances. If they were in Schiavo's place, a 61 percent majority says they would want their guardian to remove the feeding tube, 24 percent would want the tube to remain and 15 percent are unsure.

These new results show a shift from earlier in the month when 74 percent said they would want the feeding tube removed if they were in this situation and 15 percent would keep it inserted (March 1-2).

Young people are much less likely to say they would want their feeding tube removed. Liberals are almost 20 points more likely than conservatives to say they would want the tube removed.

Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News on March 29-30, several days after Schiavo's feeding tube had been removed and after her situation, including her parents' repeated attempts to have the courts intervene, had received significant news coverage. Schiavo died March 31, the morning after the poll was completed.

Terri Schiavo needed a feeding tube to stay alive since becoming brain-damaged in 1990; the tube was removed on March 18. Nearly one in four Americans (23 percent) believe if her feeding tube had remained there was a chance that down the road she could have improved.

Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo (search), successfully argued in the courts that his wife told him she would not want to be kept alive by artificial means. More than 4 in 10 Americans (43 percent) believe the husband is telling the truth and that Terri did tell him her wishes, 25 percent disagree and about a third are unwilling to venture an opinion.

If it were up to the public to decide Terri's guardianship, slightly more would have put her husband in control of her care (46 percent) than would have put her parents in charge (43 percent).

Fully 78 percent of Americans say even prior to the recent news coverage of the Schiavo case they had discussed end of life medical decisions with their family or friends. Other recent polling shows that around 40 percent of Americans have taken the next step and put their wishes on paper in the form of a living will.

When asked about the "decision to remove" Schiavo's feeding tube, 42 percent of Americans say they agree with the decision and 38 percent disagree, with 20 percent unsure. While these results seem somewhat out of line with related questions, there are several possible explanations. One possibility is that a significant number of people may agree with the outcome (the removal of the tube) but feel the process (the decision) was made hastily or in an invalid fashion.

Also, in earlier polling, many questions described Schiavo's situation and sometimes noted the wishes of her husband and her parents, before asking about removing or keeping the tube, while this question asked a non-descriptive, simple "agree or disagree" specifically about the decision to remove the tube.

Schiavo and Politics

It has been suggested by some political pundits that the decline in President George W. Bush's job approval ratings in recent polls is related to his intervention in the Schiavo case. Indeed, the latest FOX News poll also shows a 3-percentage point drop in the president's approval; however, tying that specifically to his actions on the Schiavo case is tough to do.

President Bush's current job approval rating is 49 percent (down from 52 percent at the beginning of the month) and his disapproval rating is 46 percent (up from 39 percent). The poll asked a follow up question that allowed respondents to explain in their own words why they approve/disapprove of the president's job performance.

Among those disapproving, Schiavo was mentioned by 2 percent. More broadly, disagreement on issues is mentioned by 20 percent, which is about the same as when the question was asked a year ago January (19 percent). The other reasons most often named for disapproving include Iraq (40 percent), doing a bad job in general (16 percent), the economy (14 percent), "doesn't care about average people" (12 percent), dislike of Bush as a person (10 percent), and Social Security (8 percent).

On the issue of congressional intervention, over a third of Americans (37 percent) think the actions Republicans took in the Schiavo case will hurt them in the next election, compared to 25 percent that think the actions Democrats will hurt them.

• PDF: Click here for full poll results.