If George W. Bush's speech to the nation last week was supposed to bolster Americans' confidence in their president or his war, it seems to have failed on both counts. In a USA Today/Gallup poll taken over the weekend, Bush's approval rating dropped from 37 percent to 34 percent. And, for the first time, a plurality of Americans say that the United States is either likely or certain to lose the war in Iraq.
One very slim slice of good news for the president? When told that "the Bush administration has proposed a significant increase in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to help stabilize the situation there," 38 percent of Americans say they support the idea -- a two-point uptick from the number the pollsters got just before the president's speech. The countervailing bad news? Asked a less loaded question about which of four options they prefer for Iraq, 17 percent now say "withdraw immediately" -- also a two-point uptick from the number the pollsters got just before the president's speech. Combined, 56 percent of Americans now say that the U.S. should withdraw its troops either immediately or within the next 12 months. Only 13 percent say it should send more.
As Congress returns to work after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, members might want to take note of this: 61 percent of Americans say they would support a congressional resolution expressing opposition to the Bush plan. And while Americans narrowly oppose -- by a margin of 50 to 47 percent -- the idea of cutting off funding for an escalation of the war, that's a debate that has barely begun. It's like what the White House is saying about the rest of the poll numbers: "One speech will not change public opinion."