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Poll: Bush's job approval rating drops

President still wins high marks on national defense

A new poll finds that Americans have faith in President Bush's personal strengths, but doubts about some of his policies.
A new poll finds that Americans have faith in President Bush's personal strengths, but doubts about some of his policies.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush, though still backed by a majority of Americans, finds himself with the lowest job approval rating since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, according to a CNN/USA TODAY/Gallup poll, which points to falling confidence in his handling of world affairs and a perception that his economic policies favor the rich.

Bush's job approval rating is 58 percent, a five-point decline since last week and the first time it has dipped below 60 percent since the terrorist attacks.

Still, the president gets high marks for leadership, vision and his ability to make hard decisions. His handling of national defense wins approval from more than six in 10 Americans.

The midterm poll -- based on telephone interviews with 1,002 adult Americans January 10 -12 -- comes at a tricky time for Bush. The administration is pitching a roughly $670 billion, 10-year economic plan to Congress, while it's trying to hold together an international coalition against Iraq's Saddam Hussein and deal with a nuclear standoff with North Korea.

President still wins high marks on national defense

At the same time, Democratic contenders are entering the 2004 ring, criticizing Bush for his handling of the economy, questioning the success of the war on terrorism and sounding a familiar refrain -- that the administration is too cozy with corporate America.

The poll found that 53 percent of respondents approve of how Bush is handling world affairs -- a drop since last week when the number was 60 percent.

The poll numbers suggest the second half of Bush's term could be more of a challenge than his immediate post 9/11 popularity might have indicated.

Asked whether they would support Bush if he runs for re-election in 2004, one-third of the respondents said they would definitely vote for him, while another third said they would definitely vote against him. One-third described themselves as undecided.

President still wins high marks on national defense

And in what could be a key finding for the administration, more respondents identified the economy as a decisive issue at the polls compared to terrorism, 53 percent to 32 percent. And 56 percent of those polled say they believe that Bush generally favors the rich.

That point is not likely to be lost on Bush. He saw his father's popularity after the Persian Gulf War evaporate as the economy soured, a slide that ultimately led to his ouster from the White House when he was defeated by Bill Clinton in 1992.

The president still enjoys strong support from Americans when it comes to their evaluation of his personal strengths. For example, 67 percent of those polled say Bush brought dignity back to the White House and 65 percent said he inspires confidence.

The poll has a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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