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Ports Deal Faces Wide Opposition

Times Staff Writer

Americans, by a greater than 3-1 margin, oppose the proposed deal that would allow a state-owned Arab firm to assume control of operations at several U.S. ports, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.

The takeover faces broad opposition -- substantial margins of Democrats, independents and Republicans said they did not want the agreement to proceed.

For the record:
12:00 AM, Mar. 04, 2006 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday March 04, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Times/Bloomberg poll -- A graphic in Friday’s Section A labeled some survey responses about George W. Bush’s handling of various issues as “Other.” The label should have been “Don’t know.”

The deal, which sparked a bipartisan storm of criticism in Congress, is undergoing a 45-day review by administration officials.

Buffeted by resistance to the port transaction and discontent over the turmoil in Iraq, President Bush’s approval rating fell to 38%, the lowest level recorded for him in a Times poll. His disapproval rating rose to 58%.

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And, in a trend that could affect turnout in the November midterm elections, Bush confronts what might be called an intensity gap: The percentage of Americans who said they strongly disapproved of his performance on a wide range of issues greatly exceeded the share who strongly approved.

The Times/Bloomberg poll, supervised by Times Poll Director Susan Pinkus, surveyed 1,273 adults nationwide from Saturday through Wednesday. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Support for Bush has slipped since a Times/Bloomberg poll in January, when 43% said they approved of his performance and 54% disapproved.

Debbie Davis, a Republican in Middleport, Ohio, who responded to the new poll, remains positive about Bush. “He does a good job,” the sales representative said. “He has just been put in tough situations.”

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But Beverly Greenwald, a Democrat in Atlanta, expressed the intensity registered by many Bush critics in the survey. “He’s an incompetent, ignorant man who looks for simple answers to complex issues,” the psychotherapist said. “He shouldn’t even be allowed to run a small Texas town.”

In the new poll, 43% of independents, 12% of Democrats and 77% of Republicans rated Bush’s performance positively. Since January, that represents a slight improvement among independents, virtually no change among Republicans and a decline among Democrats.

Contributing to the fall in Bush’s approval rating since January was a slight increase in the new poll in the number of respondents who identified themselves as Democrats.

“Party identification is a dynamic variable that changes with the popularity of the party in control,” Pinkus said. “The proportion of people who identified with the Republican Party was higher when Bush had more positive approval ratings.”

The findings on job approval in the Times survey were virtually identical to the results in two other polls released Thursday. A poll by Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., found 36% approved and 58% disapproved of the president’s performance; in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, the numbers were 38% and 60%.

Earlier this week, in an interview with ABC News, Bush brushed off surveys that showed a drop in his standing. “I’ve been up in the polls and I’ve been down in the polls,” Bush said. “You know, it’s just part of life in the modern era.”

In the Times poll, majorities disapproved of Bush’s performance in dealing with each of four issues measured: the economy, the federal budget deficit, Iraq and terrorism.

Amid searing sectarian violence in Iraq, 34% said they approved of Bush’s handling of the conflict, down from 41% last month. The new results are by far the lowest ratings on the war recorded for Bush in a Times poll.

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On the economy, 37% approved of Bush’s performance, whereas 60% disapproved. On the federal budget deficit, the figures were 24% approval and 67% disapproval. Also, just 19% said the economy was better off because of Bush’s policies, whereas 52% said his ideas had hurt the economy.

Perhaps most strikingly, 44% said they approved of Bush’s handling of terrorism, whereas 54% disapproved -- the first time a majority has expressed a negative opinion of his handling of that issue in a Times survey.

One explanation for the results may be the public resistance to the deal under which Dubai Ports World, based in the United Arab Emirates, would assume control of port operations in six U.S. cities from the London-based Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co.

The administration authorized the deal in January. After the widespread assault on that decision, Bush agreed to the additional review now underway, which the Dubai company requested. Officials are examining more closely whether the takeover would lessen port security.

In the new poll, more than three-fifths of those who oppose the deal gave Bush poor grades for his performance on terrorism; conversely, more than three-fourths of those who favor the transaction approved of his handling of the terrorist threat.

The Dubai deal faced opposition from virtually every broad segment of Americans. Overall, just 17% of those surveyed said they supported the agreement, whereas 58% opposed it; the rest said they did not know enough to express an opinion.

Men were more likely to support the deal than women, and those with college degrees more likely than those without. But majorities of all four groups were against it.

Over three-fifths of those surveyed in the East, Midwest and South disapproved of the deal; it drew somewhat more backing in the West. But even in that region, it was opposed 45% to 26%.

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Democrats opposed the deal by almost 10 to 1, independents by nearly 4 to 1.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy acknowledged that the public concern about the transaction mattered to the administration. “That’s why the [new review of the deal] is a healthy thing that is going to provide more information to the public and to lawmakers,” Duffy said.

Especially troubling for the White House may be resistance to the deal among core Bush supporters.

A majority of Republican women and a slight plurality of GOP men said they were against the takeover; overall, Republicans opposed it, 49% to 29%.

Andrew Craft of Houston was among the Republicans satisfied with Bush’s contention that the United Arab Emirates was a strong ally in the war on terrorism and that the Dubai company could be trusted with port operations.

“After looking more into it, I’m not as afraid anymore,” said Craft, a financial analyst.

But Marie Matthews, a Republican in Charlotte, N.C., disagreed. “I don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Matthews, a stay-at-home mother. “I think we should be able to retain control” of port management.

Politically, the poll’s most troubling finding for Republicans may be the intensity gap evident on many questions.

GOP victories in the 2002 and 2004 elections derived largely from Bush’s ability to generate a huge turnout of voters passionately committed to him. But in the new survey, Bush is generating much more ardor in opposition than in support. If that translates into a surge in turnout in November by his foes, Republicans could lose their control of Congress.

The poll found 43% strongly disapproved of Bush’s performance, more than double the 19% who strongly approved.

Indeed, for the first time in a Times poll, the percentage of adults who strongly disapprove of Bush’s job performance outstrips the share -- 38% -- who approve of his performance at all.

Guy Molyneux, who conducts polls for Democrats, said the disparities created the prospect that voters favoring his party could turn out in higher numbers than Republicans in the November election.

“The people who don’t like [Bush] are really locked in, and that has consequences,” Molyneux said.

Times staff writers Richard Simon and Matthew O’Rourke contributed to this report.

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

New lows

Q: Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling:

His job as president

Approve: 38%

Disapprove: 58%

Other: 4%

*

The situation in Iraq

Approve: 34%

Disapprove: 63%

Other: 3%

*

The war on terrorism

Approve: 44%

Disapprove: 54%

Other: 2%

*

The economy

Approve: 37%

Disapprove: 60%

Other: 3%

Sources: L.A. Times/Bloomberg poll

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Q: Do you support or oppose the Dubai-based company overseeing shipping operations at U.S. ports?*

*--* All Democrats Independents Republicans Support 17% 7% 16 29% Oppose 58 68 60 49 Haven’t heard enough 18 20 15 14 to say Don’t know 7 5 9 8

*--*

Q: Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling:

*--* Now: Approve Disapprove His job as 38% 58% president The situation 34 63 in Iraq The war on 44 54 terrorism The economy 37 60 The budget 24 67 deficit

*--*

*--* Jan. ’06: Jan. ’05**: Approve Disapprove Approve Disapprove His job as 43% 54% 50% 47% president The situation 41 56 42 54 in Iraq The war on 48 49 54 43 terrorism The economy 37 59 49 46 The budget NA NA NA NA deficit

*--*

Q: Which president do you think did a better job of handling the U.S. economy?

*--* All Democrats Independents Republicans George W. Bush 26% 3% 30% 59% Bill Clinton 63 89 56 30 Both equally 4 3 5 4 Don’t know 7 5 9 7

*--*

*This question is summarized.

**L.A. Times poll.

Notes: All results are among adults polled nationwide. Some results may not add up to 100% where some answer categories are not shown.

Times Poll results are also available at www.latimes.com/timespoll.

How the poll was conducted: The Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll contacted 1,273 adults nationwide by telephone Saturday through Wednesday. 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. Results were weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education and region. The margin of sampling error 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 were presented.

Source: L.A. Times/Bloomberg poll


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