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Support for Bush's re-election falls below 50 percent

President still enjoys advantage over Democrats

From Keating Holland
CNN Washington Bureau

Worries about the economy appear to be hurting President Bush's poll numbers.
Worries about the economy appear to be hurting President Bush's poll numbers.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The percentage of registered voters who say they would support President Bush in 2004 fell below 50 percent for the first time, according to a new CNN/USA TODAY/Gallup poll, which finds more Americans concerned about the economy.

Two-thirds of those who responded to the poll, released Thursday, describe current economic conditions as poor, a 10-point increase since December. Optimism about the future of the economy also dropped 10 points during that time.

Asked their choice for president, 47 percent of the registered voters polled said they would support Bush in 2004 -- compared with 51 percent in December. About 39 percent said they would support the Democratic candidate, compared with 37 percent in December.

Still, a majority of those polled, 57 percent, said they approved of the way Bush is handling the job of president. That Bush approval rating is the lowest since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The poll -- based on telephone interviews with 1,004 adult Americans between February 24 and 26 -- also found that support for sending U.S. troops to Iraq remains steady at 59 percent. Public attitudes, however, are likely to be shaped by the events of the next week or so as indicated by the respondents' answers to other questions. Nearly half of all Americans say they may change their minds on Iraq; about a third said they are committed to war.

The poll comes as Bush continues to lobby the U.N. Security Council to pass another resolution declaring that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has missed his last chance to disarm. And the president has made several speeches in recent weeks, emphasizing his concern about the economy and his administration's determination to strengthen it.

The poll numbers suggest Bush has further to go in convincing Americans that he can turn the economy around. About 45 percent of those polled said they favor Bush's economic plan, while 40 percent said they oppose it, and 15 percent described themselves as unsure.

On Iraq, the support for invading that country seemed to hinge on several factors. One example: Forty percent of those polled said they would support an invasion of Iraq with U.S. forces only if the United Nations approves another U.S. resolution against Iraq. And support for an invasion drops significantly if Saddam destroys missiles cited by U.N. weapons inspectors, falling from 71 percent to 33 percent.

As for Saddam's recent challenge to Bush to join him in a debate, poll respondents left no doubt about who they thought would win. Three-quarters of respondents said Bush would win a debate.

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

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