Bush Numbers Dip But He Still Looms Over Dem Opponents

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The American public has growing doubts about President Bush's efforts to improve the nation's economy and improve its health care system, a poll says, but they're not convinced that Democrats have the answers.

Bush's approval rating stood at 60 percent in the survey released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press (search), a significant drop from his 74 percent rating on April 9, the day the 40-foot statue of Saddam Hussein fell in Baghdad and U.S. commanders said the Iraqi ruler's reign had ended.

The daily violence in Iraq since Bush announced an end to major combat is bothering the public, with the number of Americans saying the military effort in Iraq is going very well down to 23 percent from 61 percent in mid-April. Still, two-thirds of those surveyed said the United States made the right decision to use military force against Iraq, and most Republicans and Democrats support the effort to rebuild the war-torn nation.

The poll of 1,201 adults conducted June 19-July 2 found growing criticism of Bush's handling of domestic issues.

The president has pushed strongly for a Medicare prescription drug benefit (search) as the Republican-controlled Congress has moved toward passage of legislation. Yet 72 percent of those polled said Bush is not making a strong enough effort to deal with health care problems. Even a majority of Republicans - 52 percent - said the president could do more.

That discontent, however, has hardly helped the Democrats, with just 38 percent saying Democrats could do a better job on health care and 31 percent picking the Republicans. That represents the smallest advantage the Democrats have had on the issue since October 1994, after the Clinton administration's debacle with a national health care plan.

On another critical domestic issue for the Democrats, unhappiness with Bush's effort to revive the economy has increased from 53 percent in May to 62 percent.

The Democratic field of nine candidates still hasn't produced a White House hopeful who could count on widespread name recognition and enthusiastic support, according to the poll.

Howard Dean (search) has captured the headlines in recent days, with $7.5 million raised in a three-month period and a first-place finish in an Internet primary, but only 37 percent of registered voters surveyed had heard of the former Vermont governor. Of those, only a third, or 32 percent, said there was a chance they would vote for him.

Joe Lieberman (search), the Democrat's vice presidential nominee in 2000, had the best name recognition of the candidates, with more than 80 percent having heard of the Connecticut senator. Of those, 45 percent said there was a chance they would vote for him.

Former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (search), D-Mo., also had high name recognition with 75 percent, and 45 percent said they might vote for him.

"The Democratic field gets modest evaluations, even among people who know who they are," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center.

Four years ago, Bush, his Republican rivals John McCain and Elizabeth Dole and Democrats Al Gore and Bill Bradley all had a majority saying they might vote for them for president.

"You might expect some candidate would come to represent an alternative to the American public," Kohut said. "But that hasn't happened so far."

The poll had an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.