WASHINGTON – Most Americans say they aren't impressed by the ethics and honesty of the Bush administration, already under scrutiny for its justifications for an unpopular war in Iraq and its role in the leak of a covert CIA officer's identity.
Almost six in 10 — 57 percent — said they do not think the Bush administration has high ethical standards and the same portion says President Bush is not honest, an AP-Ipsos poll found. Just over four in 10 say the administration has high ethical standards and that Bush is honest. Whites, Southerners and white evangelicals were most likely to believe Bush is honest.
Bush, who promised in the 2000 campaign to uphold "honor and integrity" in the White House, last week ordered White House workers, from presidential advisers to low-ranking aides, to attend ethics classes.
The president gets credit from a majority for being strong and decisive, but he's also seen by an overwhelming number of people as "stubborn," a perception reinforced by his refusal to yield on issues like the Iraq war, tax cuts and support for staffers under intense pressure.
More than eight in 10, 82 percent, described Bush as "stubborn," with almost that many Republicans agreeing to that description. That stubborn streak has served Bush well at times, but now he is being encouraged to shake up his staff and change the direction of White House policies.
Concern about the administration's ethics has been fueled by the controversy over flawed intelligence leading up to the Iraq war and the recent indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's top aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for his role in the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's name.
That loss of trust complicates Bush's efforts to rebuild his standing with the public. His job approval rating remains at his all-time low in the AP-Ipsos poll of 37 percent.
"Honesty is a huge issue because even people who disagreed with his policies respected his integrity," said Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist from the University of Texas.
The mandatory White House lectures on ethics for its employees came after the Libby indictment, and some people say they aren't impressed.
"It's like shutting the barn door after the horse escaped," said John Morrison, a Democrat who lives near Scranton, Pa.
"This week's elections were just a preview of what's going to happen," he said, referring to Tuesday's New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races, both won by Democrats. "People are just fed up."
Some Republicans are nervous about the GOP's political position.
"A lot of elected Republicans are running for the hills in the Northeast," said Connecticut GOP strategist Chris DePino after what he called "a waterfall of missteps" by Republicans. Bush and the GOP must return to their message that the United States has been safe from terrorism during his administration, DePino said.
Only 42 percent in the new poll said they approve of Bush's handling of foreign policy and terrorism, his lowest rating yet in an area that has long been his strongest issue.
The war in Iraq is at the core of the public's unrest, polling found.
An AP-Ipsos poll last week asked people to state in their own words why they approved or disapproved of the way Bush was doing his job. Almost six in 10 disapproved, and they most frequently mentioned the war in Iraq — far ahead of the second issue, the economy.
"To use an unfortunate metaphor, Iraq is a roadside bomb in American politics," said Rich Bond, a former national Republican chairman.
Many of those who approve of Bush's job performance cited his Christian beliefs and strong values, the second biggest reason for support after backing his policies.
"I know he is a man of integrity and strong faith," said Fran Blaney, a Republican and an evangelical who lives near Hartford, Conn. "I've read that he prays every morning asking for God's guidance. He certainly is trying to do what he thinks he is supposed to do."
The poll of 1,000 adults was conducted Nov. 7-9 by Ipsos, an international polling firm, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.