Not perfect? For Bush, that's pretty good

As Iraqis head for the polls amid violence, the president sees an uptick in his approval rating at home.

By Tim Grieve

Published December 13, 2005 5:46PM (EST)

George W. Bush is seldom guilty of understatement, especially when the subject is Iraq. But when the president said Monday that this week's elections "won't be perfect" -- well, it appears he was on to something. Here's the lead from an Associated Press report today: "Four U.S. Army soldiers died in a roadside bombing, gunmen killed a Sunni Arab candidate for parliament, and militants tried to blow up a leading Shiite politician in separate attacks Tuesday, the last day of campaigning for Iraq's election."

Iraqis go the polls this week to elect their first full-term parliament since coalition forces ousted the government of Saddam Hussein two years ago. The Bush administration will use the voting as another marker of progress in Iraq; indeed, even ahead of the vote, Bush was saying Monday that "every milestone" toward democracy in Iraq "has been achieved."

That sort of talk -- and talk and talk and talk -- about Iraq seems to be resonating, at least a little, with voters back home. In the latest USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, 63 percent of the respondents said they believe that Iraq has made real progress toward democracy over the last two years. At the same time, however, 58 percent of Americans say the president still doesn't have a clear plan for Iraq -- about the same number who held that view before Bush started promoting his "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" late last month.

Still, Bush's overall approval rating is showing signs of improvement -- mostly because of a reduction in gasoline prices, but probably at least in part because the Democrats can't seem to agree on a plan for Iraq, either. The president's approval rating in the new Gallup poll is 42 percent. Although that's the lowest approval rating for any modern second-term president whose name isn't Richard Nixon, 42 percent is a fair bit better than 37 percent, which is where Bush found himself last month.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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