While the struggling economy has weighed heavily on voters' minds in recent primaries, America is still a nation at war, and Iraq is certain to garner more attention as the general election begins in earnest.
John McCain returned to the issue this morning in Ohio, hoping that, if he is elected president, the war will be won and most troops home by January 2013. New data from Quinnipiac University shows, however, that many voters are fed up with the Republican-led war effort and prefer either Democratic candidate to McCain in order to bring the conflict to a conclusion.
One in five respondents to Quinnipiac's poll cited the war in Iraq as the issue most important to them in considering whom to vote for in the fall, placing it a distant second to the economy but far ahead of any other issue. Over two-thirds of all respondents and nine out of 10 Democrats said they disapprove of President Bush's leadership on the war, indicating that they are looking for a change of direction on Iraq.
Only one in three indicated that going to war with Iraq was the right thing for the U.S. to do -- a new low for the survey since the beginning of the conflict in 2003. But there is a huge partisan divide on this question, as nearly seven in 10 Republicans still defended the decision to invade Iraq, while 84 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of independents disagreed.
Going forward, a 48-percent plurality said that the U.S. should set a timetable for withdrawing troops from the region, while about one in five would like to see all U.S. military withdraw as soon as possible. Again, Republicans were more willing to give the administration the benefit of the doubt, with a 57-percent majority of GOP voters arguing that the U.S. should keep troops in Iraq "as needed," while the same percentage of Democrats and a 48-percent plurality of independents said they would like to see a timetable set for redeployment.
Alarmingly for Republicans, voters judged McCain less likely to bring progress on the war than either Barack Obama or Hillary Rodham Clinton. Asked if they think Iraq would improve if Clinton is elected president, 38 percent agreed. A 39-percent plurality said the same of an Obama presidency. On the other hand, a 52-percent majority of respondents said they expect things to stay the same in Iraq if McCain wins the White House. Independents -- a perennially important swing group -- saw the Illinois senator as more likely to bring progress, with a 40-percent plurality saying that things will get better in the region under a President Obama, while just 24 percent say the same of a McCain administration.
Amid the unpopular war, record high gas prices and a worsening economy, it's no wonder the number of Americans satisfied with Congress' job performance is plummeting to record lows. A scant 18 percent of those surveyed in a new Gallup poll gave Congress their seal of approval, tying record lows set in August 2007 and March 1992.
No clear partisan divide seems to exist on this question, though. In fact, Democrats and Republicans alike both overwhelmingly disapprove of the Democratic-led Congress. Two in 10 GOP respondents said they approved, and a mere 16 percent of Democrats did.
Public opinion of Bush is also nose-diving to record lows, with pollsters recording a measly 29 percent approval rating in this poll and other recent surveys mirroring these results. It's no surprise, then, that Congress has received such a dismal public assessment as well; according to Gallup, "Americans' ratings of Congress are almost always lower than their ratings of the sitting president."