WASHINGTON – President Bush's job approval is mired at the lowest level of his presidency, and public feelings about the nation's direction have sunk to new depths in an Associated Press-Ipsos poll.
"There is a growing, deep-seated discontentment and pessimism about the direction of the country," said Republican strategist Tony Fabrizio (search), who believes that pessimism is not always aimed at the president and his policies.
Only 28 percent say the country is headed in the right direction and two-thirds, 66 percent, say the country is on the wrong track, the AP-Ipsos poll found.
Those most likely to have lost optimism on that score include several groups that supported Bush in his re-election: white evangelicals, down 30 percentage points; Republican women, down 28 points; Southerners, down 26 points, and suburban men, down 20.
Americans' confidence in the nation's direction has been shaken on several fronts.
Consumer confidence is near the lowest level in two years. Most people are unhappy with the president's handling of the economy, gas prices and hurricane recovery. Just over a third approve of his handling of Iraq. Six in 10 are unsure whether billions of dollars for hurricane relief will be spent wisely.
Bush's job approval was 39 percent in the poll, about where he's been for the three months.
"We've lost focus on where we're supposed to be going and not able to respond to the crises that affect the people of this country," said David Ernest, a Republican from San Ramon, Calif., who is angry about the government's response to Hurricane Katrina. "We're mired in a Middle Eastern adventure and we've taken the focus off of our own country."
Four of five Republicans say they approve of Bush's job performance, close to the level of support he's had from his base for months. But the enthusiasm of that support has dipped over the last year.
Almost two-thirds of Republicans strongly approved of the job done by Bush in December 2004, soon after his re-election. The AP-Ipsos survey found that just half in his own party feel that way now.
"It's very difficult for him because he is trying to get more support generally from the American public by seeming more moderate and showing he's a strong leader at the same time he has a rebellion within his own party," said James Thurber (search), a political scientist at American University. "The far right is starting to be very open about their claim that he's not a real conservative."
Fiscal conservatives are complaining about huge budget deficits and plans to spend billions on hurricane recovery. Social conservatives are alarmed about his choice of a relatively unknown lawyer, Harriet Miers (search), as a nominee for the Supreme Court. Miers, Bush's longtime personal attorney, has most recently served as White House counsel.
Bush's has tried to reassure conservatives about Miers. He's also trying to counter critics of the war by tying U.S. efforts in Iraq to the larger war against terrorism. And he's made frequent trips to the areas devastated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita to offset criticism of the government's initial response to Katrina.
Even those efforts get viewed with suspicion by some.
"I just think the president is doing things for political reasons, not what's right for the people," said Traci Wallace, a Democrat from Tallahassee, Fla. "Every time he makes a trip to the hurricane zone, he's blowing a million dollars."
Of all the problems facing the country, the continuing war in Iraq is the one that troubles some Bush supporters the most.
"I approve of what the president is doing, but it's a mixed decision," said Richard Saulinski (search), a Republican from Orland Park, Ill. "We should get out of Iraq. It seems like there's no light at the end of the tunnel. I just think we're dealing with a culture we don't really understand."
The poll of 1,000 adults was conducted by Ipsos, an international polling company, from Monday to Wednesday and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.