05/12/2004 - Public satisfaction with national conditions has fallen to 33%, its lowest level in eight years, in the wake of revelations of prisoner abuse committed by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. President Bush's overall job approval rating also has dropped into negative territory: 44% approve of his job performance, while 48% disapprove.
The Iraq prison scandal has registered powerfully with the public fully 76% say they have seen pictures depicting mistreatment of Iraqis by U.S. soldiers. There also has been a sharp rise in the number of Americans who think the military effort in Iraq is going badly. For the first time, a majority of Americans (51%) say the war is not going well and the percentage saying the war was the right decision continues to inch downward. The survey was conducted before release of a videotape showing the decapitation of an American in Iraq.
For all that, however, public sentiment continues to run against an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. By 53%-42%, Americans favor keeping the troops there until a stable government is established. That number has changed little since early April, after four U.S. contractors were murdered and their bodies desecrated.
President Bush has lost some ground in the presidential race, though voter opinion remains closely divided. Sen. John Kerry holds a 50%-45% lead over Bush in a two-way race, and his lead narrows to 46%-43% when Ralph Nader is included. Most of the president's supporters say they consider their vote as a choice for the president. By contrast, Kerry's supporters by roughly two-to-one (32%-15%) view their vote as one against Bush.