Monday, December 20, 2004

Rumsfeld losing public's support

Fifty-two percent of respondents to a new poll think Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should resign amid recent criticism in Congress over his handling of the war in Iraq.

Thirty-six percent of respondents to the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll said Rumsfeld should not step down, and the remainder had no opinion. The margin of error for the question was 4.5 percentage points among the 1,002 Americans surveyed by telephone between Friday and Sunday.

The defense secretary was recently chided for telling U.S. soldiers headed for Iraq that "you go to war with the Army you have ... not the Army you might want or wish you had."

In addition, Rumsfeld's wartime performance has been criticized by many Democratic and some Republican lawmakers, including Sens. Trent Lott of Mississippi and John McCain of Arizona.

Despite the criticism, President Bush strongly came out in support of his Pentagon chief during a news conference Monday.

The secretary's approval rating has fallen from 71 percent in April 2003 at the height of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to 41 percent in the new survey.

As for Bush, 49 percent of respondents said they approved of the job the president is doing. That number is down from his November approval rating of 55 percent. Bush is the first incumbent president to have an approval rating below 50 percent one month after winning re-election. The question had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Although some groups have questioned the validity of voting in Ohio and other states, a large majority -- 77 percent -- of poll respondents indicated they thought the overall presidential election was fair. Nineteen percent said they thought incidents of fraud aided Bush's re-election.

Iraq is scheduled to hold elections for a transitional national assembly January 30, though with violence continuing in the country, some Iraqi officials and political figures have suggested delaying the voting until security is improved.

The poll suggested that most Americans think the United States will have to maintain a troop presence in Iraq after the voting. Forty-one percent polled said the elections would not lead to a stable government, and 40 percent said even if a stable government were voted in, U.S. troops would have to stay. Only 15 percent believed U.S. troops could be withdrawn within a year of the election. This question had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

When asked how the United States has handled Iraq during the past year, 47 percent said things have gotten worse. Twenty percent said the situation has improved and 32 percent said it is about the same. The differences fell outside the question's margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Americans polled were much more optimistic about the future of the economy in the United States.

Asked how well the economy will be doing in December 2005, 60 percent of respondents said well, and 39 percent said poorly. About 53 percent of those surveyed said the economy was good now. The question had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

One of the top items on the president's second-term agenda is making tax cuts passed during his first term permanent. Just over half -- 52 percent -- of respondents said Congress should side with the president, while 40 percent said the cuts should be rolled back. The question had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

A large majority of respondents said the U.S. tax code needs to be fixed, though they varied when asked by how much. Although 11 percent said the system is fine, the 89 percent of those who did not broke down into those who said a complete overhaul is needed (24 percent), major changes are needed (35 percent) and only minor changes are needed (29 percent). The question had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points, and answer percentages were rounded.

On another of Bush's hot-button issues, Social Security, the respondents were divided (48-48) on whether workers should be allowed to set aside some of their earnings in private stock or bond accounts. The question had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

When broken down by age group, younger respondents indicated greater support for the concept. About 62 percent of those between 18 and 29 said they agreed with the idea, while only 35 percent of those surveyed in the 65 and older category concurred. The question had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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