President Bush’s job approval rating is up slightly, but discontent over the Iraq war, especially among women, is continuing to boost Democratic prospects in the struggle for control of Congress, a Times/Bloomberg poll has found.
Bush’s job approval rating edged up to 41%, his highest since January in the poll. But Democrats held a formidable advantage, 49% to 35%, when registered voters were asked which party they intended to support in fall congressional elections.
The survey’s results suggested that an old challenge -- the gender gap -- could pose a renewed threat to the Republican hold on Congress. Although men split about evenly when asked which party they planned to back for Congress in November, women preferred Democrats by nearly 2 to 1.
Doubts about Iraq appeared to be a powerful contributor to that trend. In the survey, women were much less likely than men to say the war had been worth the cost.
“As far as the war goes, we never should have gone in there without United Nations backing,” said respondent Kathy Bocklage, a registered Republican from Wayland, N.Y., who said she was planning to support Democrats this fall. “Why [Bush] thought the U.S. could finance this alone -- it’s ludicrous.”
However, beneath the large Democrat lead on the November ballot test, the poll offered potential warnings for the party.
On a variety of questions -- including satisfaction with Bush’s handling of terrorism and the likelihood of progress in Iraq -- it showed modest but perceptible movement in the president’s direction since the last Times/Bloomberg survey, in April. Also, the share of Americans who viewed the Democratic Party favorably declined. And creating a check on Bush seemed more important than providing an opportunity for Democrats to many poll respondents who said they intended to back that party’s candidates for Congress.
“It’s not that I’m for the Democrats specifically,” said Carol Shulman, a communications professor from Oxford, Ohio. “I’m for more of a balance of power.”
The Times/Bloomberg poll, supervised by Times Polling Director Susan Pinkus, interviewed 1,321 adults (including 1,170 registered voters) from Saturday through Tuesday. It had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Even with the recent shifts, the poll documented widespread dissatisfaction with the nation’s direction and the course Bush had set.
About three-fifths of those surveyed said the country was heading in the wrong direction. Although 29% said the country was better off because of Bush’s policies and “should proceed in the direction he set out,” 61% said the nation needed “to move in a new direction.”
Bush’s 41% job approval rating represented an increase within the poll’s margin of error from his 39% showing in April. Similarly, 56% disapproved of his performance, virtually unchanged from 57% in April. And Bush still faces an intensity gap: The share of Americans who strongly disapproved of his performance (40%) remained more than double the share who strongly approved (18%).
Bocklage, who said she voted for Bush in 2004, practically seethed as she discussed his record. “He’s just out of control,” she said. “The economy is going down the toilet. Everything is being shipped out to other countries to be manufactured.... We have veterans who are homeless, we have old people on Social Security who are freezing every winter. And the gas prices!”
Such sentiments helped explain why Bush’s approval rating for his handling of the economy had not improved since April. But the verdict on his handling of Iraq ticked up -- albeit within the margin of error -- from 37% then to 40% now.
Americans were cautious in their expectations about the implications of the recent military strike in Iraq that killed Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab Zarqawi.
Half predicted it would not affect the Iraqi insurgency, 38% said it might increase the violence and 8% believed it would stop the attacks.
But against the backdrop of Zarqawi’s death, 51% of those polled gave Bush positive marks for handling the war on terrorism -- an increase of 8 percentage points since April and the first time in this year’s Times polls that he received majority support on that question.
Nils Spurkeland, a student at Susquehanna University in Gettysburg, Pa., was among those impressed with Bush’s handling of national security. “We shouldn’t let our guard down, but overall I think the administration has done an excellent job, since there have been no major attacks since Sept. 11,” he said.
Other results underscored continuing problems for Bush. Nine percent said his performance in office had improved their opinion of his credibility; 51% said their opinion had diminished, and 39% said it had not changed.
The results weren’t as encouraging for Bush on a more contemporary question: 16% of voters said they would be more likely to support a congressional candidate he supported, whereas more than twice as many -- 36% -- said they would be less likely. The rest said his endorsement would not be a factor.
“I’m not happy with Bush. I want a counterbalancing force,” said Patrick Baker, an independent from Tucson, Ariz., who works in retail sales. “I think he has put his personal religious beliefs so far ahead of the country that it has made it difficult for him to run the country in the way that it needs to be run.”
Another measure traced the long shadow Bush could cast over the election. Of those who approved of his job performance, 70% said they would vote for Republicans this fall; of those who disapproved, 74% intended to support Democrats.
Similarly, nearly seven in 10 of those who said the Iraq war was not worth the costs said they intended to support Democrats; almost six in 10 of those who said the war was worth the costs said they intended to vote Republican.
Stark differences between men and women wound through the results. Men split almost evenly on whether the war was worth the cost -- 47% said yes, 51% no.
But among women, the verdict was strongly negative: 36% said yes, but 57% said no.
When registered voters were asked which party they intended to support in November, Democrats led among women, 55% to 29%; men divided almost equally, with 43% preferring Democrats and 41% Republicans.
Still, the survey captured some trends that could undermine Democratic hopes for a strong November showing.
For instance, slightly more Americans held favorable rather than unfavorable views of congressional Democrats in the April poll; in the new survey, the balance flipped, with the number expressing unfavorable views, 36%, slightly exceeding those with favorable opinions, 34%.
“I think the minute Democrats get in, our taxes will go up and I think our economy will suffer for it,” said Robert Clark, a retiree and registered Republican in Fort Payne, Ala.
With only about four months left until election day, doubts about Democrats remain a potential life raft for Republicans struggling with a persistent tide of public discontent over Bush’s second term.
Times staff writer Heather Gehlert and Times Data Supervisor Claudia Vaughn contributed to this report.
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Registered voters nationwide (partial results shown below)
Q: If the election for Congress were held today, which party would you like to see win in your congressional district?
Before midterm election / Aug. ’02*: 47%
Before midterm election / July ’94*: 44%
Before midterm election / Aug. ’02*: 39%
Before midterm election / July ’94*: 42%
Before midterm election / Aug. ’02*: 1%
Before midterm election / July ’94*: 2%
Before midterm election / Aug. ’02*: 4%
Before midterm election / July ’94*: 4%
Before midterm election / Aug. ’02*:9%
Before midterm election / July ’94*: 8%
Among adults nationwide
Q: What is your impression of . . . .
Democrats in Congress: 34%
Republican in Congress: 31%
Democrats in Congress: 36%
Republican in Congress: 42%
Haven’t heard enough/Don’t know:
Democrats in Congress: 30%
Republican in Congress: 27%
Q: Which party, the Democratic or the Republican, is better when it comes to . . . .
Representing your personal values
Dealing with major problems facing the country
Handling national security and terrorism
The situation in Iraq’
Q: Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president?
April ’06: 39%
Jan. ’06: 43%
Jan. ’05*: 50%
April ’06: 57%
Jan. ’06: 54%
Jan. ’05*: 47%
Mar. ’04: 51%
Feb. ’03*: 56%
Feb. ’02*: 80%
Mar. ’01*: 62%
Mar. ’04: 44%
Feb. ’03*: 39%
Feb. ’02*: 15%
Mar. ’01*: 18%
Q: Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling . . . .
The situation in Iraq
Now / Approve: 40%
Now / Disapprove: 56%
April ’06 / Approve: 37%
April ’06 / Disapprove: 59%
War on terrorism
Now / Approve: 51%
Now / Disapprove: 43%
April ’06 / Approve: 43%
April ’06 / Disapprove: 53%
Now / Approve: 39%
Now / Disapprove: 54%
April ’06 / Approve: 39%
April ’06 / Disapprove: 57%
Now / Approve: 37%
Now / Disapprove: 49%
April ’06 / Approve: NA
April ’06 / Disapprove: NA
Iran’s nuclear weapon program
Now / Approve: 40%
Now / Disapprove: 31%
April ’06 / Approve: NA
April ’06 / Disapprove: NA
Q: Do you think the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over, or not?
Q: When it comes to Iran and its nuclear program, do you think Iran will be . . . .
Stopped through diplomatic solutions
Stopped through military actions
Eventually with nuclear weapons
Q: If Iran continues to produce material that can be used to develop nuclear weapons, would you support or oppose the U.S. taking military action against Iran?
*Los Angeles Times poll only
Notes: Results shown are among all U.S. adults nationwide unless otherwise indicated. Numbers may not total 100% where more than one response was accepted or some answer categories are not shown. NA means this question was not asked in the poll.
Times Poll results are also available at www.latimes.com/timespoll.
How the poll was conducted: The Los Angeles Times / Bloomberg Poll contacted 1,321 adults, including 1,170 registered voters, nationwide by telephone June 24 through 27, 2006. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the nation, and random digit dialing techniques allowed listed and unlisted numbers to be contacted. Multiple attempts were made to contact each number. Adults were weighted slightly to conform with their respective census figures for sex, race, age, education and region. The margin of sampling error for both samples is plus or minus 3 percentage points. For certain subgroups, the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results may also be affected by factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented.
Source: L.A. Times/Bloomberg Poll