FOX News Poll: Pre-SOTU Address Ratings

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As President George W. Bush prepares to give his fifth State of the Union speech, a new FOX News poll finds that Americans want to hear him to talk about the situation in Iraq, the economy and terrorism. The president's approval rating is 41 percent, which is about where it has been for more than two months now.

The poll shows that Americans are most interested in hearing the president speak to the nation about the situation in Iraq (26 percent), the economy (20 percent) and terrorism (11 percent). (Respondents named topics without the aid of being read a list.)

Iraq was also the top issue the public wanted to hear the president speak about in last year's address (31 percent). And while the economy was in the top three for the 2005 speech as well, the second issue at that time was Social Security, which hardly any people mention this year (4 percent).

The president is scheduled to deliver his State of the Union address on January 31.

"This is a clear illustration of a president's ability to raise the profile of a chosen issue," says Chris Anderson, Opinion Dynamics senior researcher. "Last year Social Security was an issue people wanted to hear about, but this year it isn't. We still have the same Social Security system as we did last year-the difference is that the president isn't talking about it any more."

In the wake of the recent Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, government corruption has been a hot topic. Even so, Americans think government spending is just as big a problem.

When asked to choose between the two, more than a third (36 percent) say government overspending is the bigger problem and almost as many say government corruption (34 percent). Another 28 percent say "both."

In addition, about two-thirds (67 percent) agree that lawmakers promise more social programs than taxpayers can afford, including majorities of Democrats (60 percent), independents (67 percent) and Republicans (76 percent) — a rare instance of overall political agreement.

Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News on January 24-25.

Today, 41 percent of Americans approve of the job President Bush is doing and 51 percent disapprove. From late November through mid-January the president's approval rating has been 42 percent and disapproval has ranged between 48 percent and 51 percent.

The striking difference — almost 70 points — between how Republicans and Democrats rate the president's job performance tells a large part of the story behind the overall numbers. As strongly as Republicans approve of Bush's job performance (82 percent), Democrats match that strength in disapproval (78 percent).

Unlike much of Bush's presidency, there is no gender gap today: 41 percent of both men and women approve.

The president receives better marks than Congress, but slightly lower than the U.S. Supreme Court. About one third of Americans today say they approve of the job Congress is doing (34 percent) and half disapprove (51 percent). Basically reverse that for the Supreme Court: 50 percent approve and 30 percent disapprove.

On the issues, as has been the case in the past, the president receives his highest job rating on the issue of terrorism: 51 percent approve and 44 percent disapprove. Approval is down from 53 percent in the two previous surveys (August 2005 and October 2004).

On the economy, 41 percent approve and 52 percent disapprove of the job Bush is doing, a slight 3-percentage point improvement from last summer. A year ago, opinion was evenly divided at 46 percent approve and 46 percent disapprove (January 2005).

Four in 10 approve of how the president is handling the situation with Iraq and 55 percent disapprove. Last January 44 percent approved and 51 percent disapproved.

Taking a moment to review the overall trends, President Bush's first-term average was 61 percent approve and 29 percent disapprove. For 2005, the first year of his second term, his average rating was 46 percent approve and 46 percent disapprove.

Bush received the highest approval of his presidency — 88 percent — in the wake of the September 11 attacks (November 2001) and the lowest approval — 36 percent — last fall (November 2005).

Back to this year's the State of the Union address for a final note. A common practice throughout history has been to including the phrase "the state of our nation is strong" or "our union is strong," but do Americans agree? The poll asked, in this year's speech, would it be accurate to describe the country as "strong and confident": 40 percent say yes, while 55 percent say no.

• PDF: Click here for full poll results.