Bush hits new low

By Geraldine Sealey

Published May 11, 2004 3:56PM (EDT)

The latest Gallup poll brings both bad news and mediocre news for President Bush in light of the Iraqi prison abuse scandal that continues to grip national attention and provoke outrage here and abroad.

The bad news: The president's job approval rating is at a historic low -- 46 percent. That's three points lower than last week. Gallup says: "All five presidents who successfully sought re-election since 1950 have maintained job approval ratings above 50% beginning in February of the election year."

The mediocre news: Bush is still tied with John Kerry among likely voters, and is ahead among likely voters in 16 battleground states. But there's bad news for Bush lurking here, too: Kerry is ahead among registered voters -- a larger category of voter.

More bad news: It's clear Bush's job approval rating is taking a hit from the prisoner abuse scandal. Gallup says the story ranks among the "top 10% most salient to the public measured by Gallup since 1991." Over half of all Americans, 54%, are bothered "a great deal" about the abuse, and another 25% are bothered a "fair amount." Twenty percent are not bothered, with 11% saying "not much," and 9% saying "not at all." Almost three-quarters say there are no circumstances that justify this type of behavior.

Forty-two percent say the president bears a great deal or a fair amount of blame in the abuse scandal, while 48 percent say the same for Donald Rumsfeld. But most Americans blame the soldiers and their direct supervisors for the alleged acts of torture and abuse. Even though news reports -- and the Red Cross' report -- indicate there was a system and pattern of abuse, and while soldiers charged with abuse say they were following orders, a majority of Americans do not accept that excuse. Almost two-thirds of Americans say Rumsfeld should keep his job despite the scandal.

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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