03/02/06 FOX Poll: Most Oppose Port Deal; Republicans Lose Ground

Most Americans oppose allowing a Dubai company to run some U.S. ports, even as a majority understands the U.S. would continue to control port security, according to a new FOX News poll. One in four sees the United Arab Emirates as a strong ally, but most either disagree or are unsure. In addition, the poll shows Republicans have lost ground on the issue of terrorism, and by a wide margin voters now think it would be better for the country if Democrats win control of Congress in this year’s midterm election.

For only the second time of his presidency, the poll finds that President Bush’s overall job approval rating has fallen below 40 percent — today 39 percent of Americans say they approve and a 54 percent majority disapproves. Late last year the president’s approval hit a record-low of 36 percent (8-9 November 2005).

This is also one of only a handful of times that Bush's approval has dropped below 80 percent among Republicans. Today 77 percent of Republicans approve, down from 82 percent in early February. Disapproval among Democrats went from 79 percent in early February to 84 percent today. Approval among independents is essentially unchanged at 35 percent.

"People's opinions of the president are based largely on how they perceive things in the country are going in general rather than how he is doing in his day-to-day job," says Opinion Dynamics Vice President Lawrence Shiman. "When you combine the fact that people are paying more attention to Iraq than any other issue with the perception of Iraq as being on the brink of a civil war, it is not surprising the president and his party are struggling in the polls."

The port controversy, along with the situation in Iraq (fully 81 percent of Americans think it is likely Iraq will end up in a civil war), appears to be taking a toll on Republicans.

At the beginning of the year the Republican Party held a 13-percentage point advantage over Democrats on being the party trusted to do a better job protecting the country from terrorism. Today Republicans still have the edge, but it has dropped to 5 points.

Furthermore, by a 14-percentage point margin voters think it would be better for the country if Democrats win control of Congress in this year’s election, up from an 8-point edge in early February and 11 points in January.

Most Oppose Port Deal

On the port issue, the new poll finds that 69 percent of Americans oppose allowing the Arab-owned company called Dubai Ports World to manage commercial operations at some U.S. ports — four times as many as support the deal (17 percent).

Democrats are significantly more likely than Republicans to oppose the deal, however majorities of both major parties are against it. At 81 percent, Democrats overwhelmingly oppose the deal, as do 66 percent of independents and 57 percent of Republicans.

Overall, only 27 percent think the United Arab Emirates is a strong ally of the United States in the war against terrorism, and 77 percent are concerned that having an Arab-owned company manage U.S. ports would jeopardize national security — including nearly half (47 percent) that are "very" concerned.

Among those following news about the ports deal "very" closely, support for the deal increases to 21 percent — slightly higher than the 17 percent overall. Support reaches 41 percent among Americans that agree with President Bush that the United Arab Emirates is a strong ally.

A clear majority (63 percent) correctly identifies the United States as being in charge of port security, even if the Arab-owned company manages the ports — a point the Bush administration has made repeatedly while defending the deal.

"Opposition to the port deal is based primarily on a distrust among Americans of the government of the United Arab Emirates, rather than a misunderstanding of the role the company would play in managing the ports," notes Shiman. "These results are consistent with past research, which showed a high level of distrust of other Middle Eastern allies as well."

The new poll finds widespread agreement that at least some opposition to the deal is based on bias against Arabs: 38 percent say "a lot" and another 32 percent say "some" of the opposition is based on bias.

If the deal goes through, Dubai Ports World would be taking over control of port terminals previously run by a London-based company. Views are sharply divided on whether a Middle Eastern company should be held to a higher standard on security issues than a British company. More than four in 10 (44 percent) think a Middle Eastern company should be held to a higher standard, while a slim 47 percent plurality disagrees.

Voters are slightly pessimistic about the motives of politicians opposing the port deal, as 36 percent think the opposition is based on legitimate security concerns, but slightly more — 42 percent — think it is based on political grandstanding in an election year.

Despite the sizable opposition to the deal, a majority thinks it will go through: 54 percent think a year from now the UAE-company will be managing some ports in the United States.

The controversy over the port deal has raised awareness of ports as a potential terrorist target. Over one-quarter (28 percent) of the public considers ports to be the greatest risk — more so even than airports — for being a target for terrorist attacks, up from 11 percent in 2002.

All in all, half of Americans think U.S. ports are safe today, which is significantly less than the 86 percent that thinks air travel is safe, but more than the 39 percent that believe the country’s borders are secure.

Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News on February 28 - March 1.

Finally, in addition to asking Americans to rate the president’s job performance, the poll asked what kind of job they would be doing if they were in Bush’s shoes. Overall, 37 percent say they think they would be doing a better job than President Bush is doing, 43 percent say worse and 10 percent say the same.

Over half of Democrats (54 percent) think they would be doing a better job than Bush, while only 14 percent of Republicans feel that way. More than two-thirds of Republicans (68 percent) think they would be doing a worse job than their party’s leader.

• PDF: Click here for full poll results.