WASHINGTON – President Bush's standing with the public is slumping just three months into his final term, but Americans have an even lower regard for the job being done by Congress.
Bush's job approval is at 44 percent, with 54 percent disapproving. Only 37 percent have a favorable opinion of the work being done by the Republican-controlled Congress, according to an AP-Ipsos poll.
Bush's job approval was at 49 percent in January, while Congress was at 41 percent.
"This is a pretty sour spring," said Karlyn Bowman, a public opinion analyst at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute (search). "People are not very impressed by what Bush is doing or by what Congress is doing — Democrats or Republicans."
Record high gasoline prices, nervousness about the future of Social Security, the ongoing Iraq war and the Terri Schiavo (search) case are all contributing, political analysts said.
Republicans in Congress and the president moved quickly during the Easter recess to approve legislation intended to prolong the life of Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman who died after her feeding tube was disconnected.
The number supporting Bush's handling of some domestic issues dipped between March and April, to 42 percent for the economy and 38 percent for issues like education and health care, according to the poll conducted for The Associated Press by Ipsos-Public Affairs.
Support for the president's approach to his top domestic priority, Social Security (search), remained at 36 percent, while 58 percent oppose it.
Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio said Bush faces an uphill battle with his plan to allow younger workers to invest some of their Social Security taxes in personal investment accounts.
"With the Social Security plan itself, they're fundamentally trying to sell a plan that isn't popular," Fabrizio said. "They're flying into the wind."
Young adults are supposed to benefit the most from Bush's Social Security proposal, but a majority of that group, 54 percent, opposes the president on that issue.
Ed Rollins, a Republican who was a top political adviser to President Reagan, said if Bush continues to push relentlessly for his Social Security plan he's taking a chance.
"If he wants to make Social Security his legacy," Rollins said, he faces the risk that "there will be no legacy."
Denise Brown, a 41-year-old Republican from Prattville, Ala., is among those Bush has yet to convince.
"I'm not sold on it," she said. "Maybe there haven't been any alternatives put out there. Something definitely needs to be done, but there are probably other ways to do it that may be better."
While Democrats firmly disapprove of Bush's job performance and independents lean toward disapproval, Republicans remain firmly behind him.
"I don't know that the exit strategy in Iraq is completely thought out. And I don't know that all the Social Security options have been explored," said Scott Lindsey, a Republican who lives around Memphis, Tenn. "But I think President Bush is doing a good job."
The president's poll standing has been in the mid-40s to low-50s for the past two years, said Matthew Dowd, who was a strategist and pollster for Bush in the 2004 presidential campaign.
"The president being at the lower end of his normal range has more to do with the price of gasoline and thus, economic confidence, than anything else," Dowd said.
During the first three months of the year, Congress has spent much of its time discussing the budget and Social Security and passing legislation toughening laws on bankruptcy. Congress interrupted its Easter break last month to pass the legislation on Schiavo.
Some think Congress has its priorities confused.
"I don't think Congress should have gotten involved in the Schiavo case," said Tiavia Fields, a nurse from Compton, Calif., who is a Democrat. "That was in Florida and it had nothing to do with us. Isn't that a state matter? They should have just let that poor woman's husband handle it."
Democrats are pondering how best to tap into public dissatisfaction with Bush and the GOP-led Congress.
"I think the Democrats have to be clearer about offering alternatives, not just the critique," said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. "People already know what the problems are, they want to know the solutions."
The AP-Ipsos poll of 1,001 adults was taken April 4-6 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.