Even as a majority of Americans say they want U.S. troops to stay in Iraq (search) and finish the job, approval of President George W. Bush's handling of Iraq is at the lowest level of his presidency, according to a new FOX News poll. Views of the president's handling of the economy and terrorism are also at low points. The president's ratings correspond with the public's gloominess on top issues: many think things in Iraq are going worse than expected, pessimism about the economy is up and most foresee gas prices continuing to climb.

The latest FOX News poll finds that for the second time of Bush's presidency, more Americans disapprove than approve of his job performance: 45 percent approve and 50 percent disapprove. The other time disapproval topped approval was in August 2004 when 44 percent approved and 48 percent disapproved.

Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News on August 30-31.

The president does better than Congress though, as Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing by 53 percent to 28 percent. In addition, by a slim 3-percentage point margin, a plurality says they want Democrats to win next year's congressional elections.

"It is interesting to note that even as public approval of President Bush has declined, the Democrats have failed to open up a wider lead in next year’s elections," comments Opinion Dynamics Chairman John Gorman. "So far they have failed to generate an 'opposition' position that people can support. They need to define how they would make things better to attract the people who are having doubts about Republican policies."

As has been the case in the past, the issue area where Bush's receives his highest rating is on handling terrorism: 53 percent approve and 40 percent disapprove.

On the situation in Iraq, 41 percent approve, down from 44 percent at the beginning of the year (January 2005) and a high of 75 percent in April 2003 — around the time Iraqis toppled the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.

On the nation’s economy, 38 percent approve of Bush’s handling, down 11 points since January.

In general, feelings on the economy have taken a turn downward. For much of 2003 and all of 2004, majorities of Americans said they felt optimistic about the economy. Today, 43 percent say they feel optimistic, a drop of 10 percentage points since last August, and half feel pessimistic.

When asked to consider how things would be going if — hypothetically — Mass. Sen. John Kerry had won last year's presidential election, 40 percent of voters think he would be doing a better job than Bush on handling the economy and 31 percent think he would be doing worse. Opinion splits evenly on handling the situation with Iraq: 37 percent think Kerry would be doing a better job than Bush and 38 percent say worse.

Iraq

Just over half of Americans (52 percent) say they think things are going "worse than expected" for troops in Iraq, and a 46 percent plurality thinks in the long run the situation will turn out badly for the United States. Despite these figures, a 58 percent majority says they want U.S. troops to stay in Iraq and finish the job rather than come home now (33 percent).

If American troops left now, almost half of voters think that would symbolize a victory for Iraqi insurgents and terrorists.

Public opinion is somewhat divided on whether Cindy Sheehan (search) has a legitimate reason for requesting another meeting with President Bush (39 percent) or if she's just trying to get publicity for anti-war demonstrators (46 percent). Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq, is the mother who started the anti-war protest near Bush's ranch.

About half of voters (49 percent) think most families of U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq disagree with Sheehan and 25 percent think most agree (26 percent are unsure).

With the speculation about Sen. John McCain (search), R-Ariz., and Sen. Hillary Clinton (search), D-N.Y., running for president in 2008, the poll asked which one would do a better job handling a situation similar to Iraq: McCain bests Clinton by 14 percentage points (44 percent to 30 percent).

Gas Prices

Most Americans have had to make lifestyle changes to deal with higher gas prices (search), and there is widespread belief that even higher prices are ahead.

More than three-quarters say they have cut back on either driving (42 percent) or spending in other areas (17 percent), and some have cut back on both (20 percent) to deal with the cost of filling their tank. Furthermore, over a third (37 percent) say the sky-high costs have made them more likely to consider a hybrid car.

A sizeable 67 percent majority expects gas prices will be higher six months from now.

And who is most to blame for the rising prices? The Bush administration tops the list (23 percent) followed closely by domestic oil companies (20 percent) and OPEC/Middle East (12 percent). Only 2 percent blame consumers or SUVs. (Note: without the aid of being read a list respondents volunteered responses to this question.)

John Roberts

President Bush nominated John Roberts (search) to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in mid-July. Since then, support for Roberts' confirmation has held steady, while opposition has increased somewhat. Last month, 51 percent of Americans said they would vote to confirm Roberts, 19 percent would not, with 30 percent unsure (July 2005). Now 50 percent would confirm him, 26 percent would not and 24 percent are unsure.

More voters think the scrutiny of Roberts' record is being done unfairly (41 percent) than fairly (29 percent), and 61 percent think Senators should not consider Roberts’ religious beliefs when deciding whether to confirm him.

Even though Roberts was largely unknown to most Americans until about six weeks ago, today his name recognition and personal favorable rating are as high or higher than some prominent Senate Judiciary Committee members who will question him at the confirmation hearings.

Almost a third of voters (32 percent) say they have a favorable opinion of Roberts, while the committee chair, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, has a 17 percent favorable rating and the ranking committee Democrat, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, a 14 percent favorable rating.

• PDF: Click here for full poll results.