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Inside Politics

Poll: Bush's approval rating climbs

High marks given on tsunami, lower on Social Security and Iraq

George W. Bush
Social Security

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush got high marks for his handling of the tsunami disaster, and his job approval rating went up in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday, but most of those surveyed had doubts about his call to overhaul Social Security.

Bush's job approval rating went up to 52 percent in the poll, which was conducted Friday through Sunday in phone calls to 1,008 adult Americans. That's an improvement of 3 percentage points from the last CNN poll, taken in mid-December.

Another 44 percent said they disapproved of his job performance, down 2 percentage points from the December 17-19 survey. The latest poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Bush got his highest marks in a year on his handling of the economy, with 50 percent of those polled saying they approved of his performance.

He also got high marks for his handling of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster, with 75 percent of respondents saying they approved of the way he handling it. (Full story)

But only 42 percent of those surveyed said they approved of his handling of the war in Iraq, and 56 percent disapproved. (Full story)

And 52 percent said they disapproved of his handling of Social Security -- an issue Bush has called on Congress to tackle in his second term. (Full story)

Only 41 percent said they approved of Bush's desire to revamp Social Security, on which he has promised to spend the "political capital" he earned from his November election victory.

Bush has endorsed the concept of allowing younger workers to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in private accounts in exchange for receiving less in guaranteed Social Security benefits.

He has yet to offer details of his proposal, but critics have argued that the transition to such a program could cost $1 trillion to $2 trillion.

Monday's poll suggests the president will have a hard sell for any partial privatization effort.

More than half of those polled -- 55 percent -- said they considered it a bad idea, and 45 percent said they considered it a good idea.

Monday's poll found that 18 percent of those responded agree with the president's characterization of Social Security as a system in crisis, with another 53 percent arguing that it faces major problems.

Only 24 percent described the system's problems as minor, while 3 percent said Social Security faces no problems.

By comparison, only 13 percent of those polled in September 2002 said they considered Social Security to be facing a crisis, and 15 percent of those polled in December 1998 held that opinion.

In a separate question, nearly half of those polled -- 49 percent -- said they believe the federal government should make major changes to Social Security within the next year or two.

Another 39 percent backed changes within the next 10 years, and 9 percent said change was not necessary.

When asked about the disaster in the Indian Ocean that has killed more than 140,000 people, three-quarters of those polled said they approved of Bush's reaction to the disaster, and one-fifth disapproved.

The Bush administration's initial response to the tsunamis was criticized as insufficient and tentative, but nearly all Americans surveyed said they believed the United States was contributing its fair share or more to the relief effort.

Only 8 percent said they believed the United States should contribute more to the relief effort.

Fully half of those polled said Arab countries were pitching in less than their fair share, compared to 21 percent who thought European countries should contribute more and 24 percent who said the United Nations should do more.

Asked whether they believed the United States had made a mistake by sending troops to Iraq, 50 percent of those surveyed said yes and 48 percent said no.

Only 40 percent of those surveyed said they believed the war is going well for American forces.

Just 28 percent said they considered it very likely or somewhat likely that peace and security would be established within Iraq in the next year.

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