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Public Confidence in President Slips As Majority Say U.S. on Wrong Track

By Todd S. Purdum and Janet Elder

The New York Times -- The public’s confidence in President Bush’s ability to deal wisely with an international crisis has slid sharply over the past five months, and a clear majority are also uneasy about his ability to make the right decisions on the nation’s economy, the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll has found.

Overall, the poll found, Americans are for the first time more critical than not of Bush’s ability to handle both foreign and domestic problems, and a majority say the President does not share their priorities. Thirteen months before the 2004 election, a solid majority of Americans say the country is seriously on the wrong track, a classic danger sign for incumbents, and only about half of Americans approve of Bush’s overall job performance. That is roughly the same as when Bush took office after the razor-close 2000 election.

But more than six in 10 Americans still say the president has strong qualities of leadership, more than five in 10 say he has more honesty and integrity than most people in public life and a majority credit him with making the country safer from terrorist attack. By contrast, the Democratic presidential contenders remain largely unknown, and nearly half of Americans -- and a like number of registered voters -- say the Democrats have no clear plan of their own for the country.

A summer of continuing attacks on American soldiers in Iraq, the failure so far to find weapons of mass destruction there and Bush’s recent request for $87 billion to finance military operations and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan have all taken a toll on public support for his administration’s Iraq policy, and on views of his ability to handle such issues in general.

The poll found that just 45 percent of Americans now have confidence in Bush’s ability to deal wisely with an international crisis, down sharply from 66 percent in April, and half now say they are uneasy about his approach. Nearly nine in 10 Americans say the war in Iraq is still going on, and six in 10 say the United States should not spend as much on the effort as Bush has sought. Three-quarters of Americans -- including a majority of Republicans -- say that the administration has yet to clearly explain how long American troops will have to stay in Iraq, or how much it will cost to rebuild the country.

The nationwide telephone poll of 981 adults has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The poll was taken Sunday through Wednesday, and was in progress when the Justice Department announced it would investigate allegations that someone in the White House may have leaked the name of an undercover CIA officer.