WASHINGTON - More than two weeks after
Hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans, US
President George W Bush is looking increasingly
like a political "lame duck", struggling hard to
stay afloat on a rising tide of pessimism and
A series of polls
published on the eve of a scheduled prime-time
national address by Bush from New Orleans on
Thursday evening shows public confidence in Bush's
leadership, as well as his handling of a range of
issues - from disaster relief to Iraq - has fallen
to unprecedented lows, while the national mood has
become distinctly negative.
worrisome for Bush's hopes of retaining his
political potency, the surveys show that moderate
deserting his camp and that
self-described independents say they intend to
vote Democratic in next year's Congressional
elections by a two-to-one margin.
According to one poll by the Pew Research
Center for People & the Press, nearly half of
all respondents want to see most members of the
Republican-controlled Congress voted out next year
- the highest level of dissatisfaction with the
country's lawmakers in the past decade. Pew notes
it was "exceeded only by pre-election polls in
1994", when, in a political earthquake,
Republicans took control of the House of
Representatives for the first time in 40 years.
"[These results] suggest unstable days
ahead in the Republican caucus," Republican
pollster Bill McInturff told the media.
an analysis of its own poll conducted with NBC
News, the Wall Street Journal found that
Republican lawmakers from the northeast and
midwest will be under strong pressure to distance
themselves from the president due to the high
level of discontent in those two regions with his
The new polls - all taken
between September 8 and 13 - also suggested that
Bush's vows to "stay the course" in Iraq and in
the wider "global war on terror" may also be
difficult to sustain if current attitudes persist.
While a slim majority (51%) of respondents
in the Pew poll still believe US troops should
remain in Iraq until the situation there is
stabilized, a 55% majority in the Journal-NBC
survey said the number of US troops in Iraq should
be reduced. Fifty-seven percent of Pew respondents
said they wanted to set a timetable for withdrawal
- up from 49% in July.
confidence in Bush's handling of Iraq has
continued to deteriorate, particularly among
Democrats and independents, according to Pew. Four
in 10 voters now believe that Iraq is likely to
turn out like Vietnam - up from 29% a year ago.
Among independents, however, the
percentage has risen from 29 to a plurality of
46%. Moreover, a 58% majority of self-described
moderate and liberal Republicans now favor a
timetable up from 36% just two months ago.
The Journal-NBC poll also found that a
plurality of four in 10 respondents said "reducing
Iraq war spending" was the best way to finance
recovery from the devastation caused by Katrina,
when other options included repealing some income
tax cuts, preserving the estate tax, cutting
spending in other areas, or increasing the federal
"It's going to be very hard to
just move straight forward on Iraq," Democratic
pollster Peter Hart told the Journal.
Perhaps the most striking finding of both
polls, as well as a third survey by the New York
Times and CBS News published on Thursday, was the
public's pessimistic mood and its growing lack of
confidence in Bush's leadership.
Times/CBS poll fond that more than six in 10
respondents say that Bush does not share their
priorities for the country, and a similar
percentage said the country was "pretty seriously"
on the wrong track. Forty-five percent said Bush
lacked "strong leadership qualities" - the highest
percentage since the survey's sponsors first asked
the question in 1999 when he was preparing his run
for the presidency.
The Journal-NBC poll
meanwhile found that the public is evenly split on
its assessment of Bush's ability to handle a
crisis - a stunning drop from just last January
when he received positive marks for crisis
management by a 56-28% margin. Similarly, those
who rated his leadership qualities as "strong"
have dropped from 52% nine months ago to 43% now.
The same poll found that the public has
become particularly pessimistic about the economy,
with 49% expecting that it will worsen over the
next year, as opposed to 16% who said it would
improve. In January, according to the survey,
those figures were reversed.
the Pew poll found a sharp growth in pessimism
about the economy, particularly among
independents. In January, 24% of independents said
they thought the economy would get better over the
following year, while 17% disagreed. But in the
most-recent survey, more than three times as many
independents expect economic conditions to worsen
over the next year as expect them to improve (42%
While confidence in the
Democratic leadership in Congress is no better -
and in some cases actually worse - than for Bush,
according to the Pew survey, the party itself is
widely seen as better able to handle a wide and
growing range of policy issues. Pluralities say
Democrats can deal more effectively with energy
problems, social security, education, the economy,
Iraq and major disasters.
The only issue
on which the Republicans continue to do better
than Democrats is on dealing with the terrorist
threat at home. "But even here," according to Pew,
the Republican's edge "has narrowed
Currently, Democrats hold
a 52-40% lead for Congressional races, although,
as in previous years, almost six in 10 voters said
they plan to vote for the incumbent in their
district and state.
If Democrats regain
control of either or both houses next year, Bush's
more radical social and economic agenda of
partially privatizing social security and cutting
taxes, particularly on the wealthy, would almost
certainly not survive, according to most
observers. Some believe the anticipated costs to
the federal treasury associated with Katrina - at
well over $100 billion - may already have dealt
those initiatives a mortal blow.