Some of President Bush's bedrock supporters — Southerners and rural residents — have lost confidence in the likelihood of a stable, democratic Iraq.

More than half of Americans polled by The Associated Press in mid-January — 53 percent — said they think it's unlikely that a stable, democratic Iraq will be established, while 46 percent said that is likely.

In mid-April, 55 percent of Americans said they thought a stable, democratic Iraq was likely.

Optimism has waned in the last eight months in almost every group of Americans. But it remains strongest among Republicans and suburbanites, especially men, and those who are married, according to polls conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs (search).

Some of the larger declines in optimism came among Southerners, Northeasterners, rural Americans and women 45 and over.

Other groups that showed a significant decline were those with incomes between $25,000 and $50,000 a year, young men, those without college educations — groups very likely to know people serving in Iraq.

"The trend in public opinion about the war has been steadily coming down for two years," said Charles Franklin, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (search), who has been closely watching the trends. "The presidential campaign halted the slide. It tended to connect feelings about Iraq to how people were voting.

"Now that the election is over, people have a more independent view of the war," Franklin said.

Some acknowledge losing that earlier optimism.

"The way things are going right now, I think they're going to have a difficult time establishing a stable Iraq," said James Lee, a Republican retiree and Navy veteran from Davenport, Fla. "I thought at first that they could establish a stable Iraq, but at some point they went the wrong way."

In the November elections, Bush won Southern states and rural areas with the support of about six in 10 voters. Both those groups have become less optimistic about the future of Iraq.

Almost a third of the troops killed came from the South, which has many military bases and a strong military tradition. Many of the dead and wounded came from small towns and rural areas across the country.

Even though Americans are becoming more pessimistic about Iraq's future, support for the troops remains high. A majority still supports keeping troops in Iraq until the situation has stabilized, despite the worries.

"We can't pull out now, not after all those guys have died," said Janice Shinn, a Republican-leaning postal worker from Pedricktown, N.J. "But we have to see it through. We can't just leave like we did in Vietnam."

The steady news reports of violence in Iraq have taken a toll.

"Almost every day there's a report of a few more of our troops being killed or of bombs going off resulting in the deaths of Iraqis," said Charles Bullock, a political scientist at the University of Georgia. "It undermines hopes that stability will be established."

But Bush spokesman Scott McClellan reaffirmed Tuesday that Bush will not change course: "Our resolve is firm to stay there and help the Iraqi people build a democratic and peaceful future."

Longtime Republican activist Pat Buchanan (search), who has questioned Bush's Iraq policy, said keeping current levels of optimism depends on turning over power to Iraqis.

"There's a measure of hope about these elections," Buchanan said. "But those hopes are bound up in the possibility that we could shift power and authority to the Iraqi government, get a reasonable regime there that is not anti-American and a winding down of the insurrection."