Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - Two crucial pillars of President Bush's public support - perceptions of his honesty and faith in his ability to fight terrorism - have slipped to their lowest point in the AP-Ipsos poll.
While the CIA leak investigation, the mishandling of Hurricane Katrina and high energy costs have all taken their toll, the polling found the Iraq war at the core of Americans' displeasure with the president.
All of those concerns are cutting into traditional Bush strengths.
Almost six in 10 now say Bush is not honest, and a similar number say his administration does not have high ethical standards.
During his re-election bid in 2004, Bush skillfully wove the public's trust of him and faith in his handling of the terror threat into a winning campaign over Democrat John Kerry.
Now, 56 percent disapprove of the way Bush is handling foreign policy and the war on terrorism, the poll found. Overall, 37 percent approve of the job Bush is doing as president.
An AP-Ipsos poll last week asked people to state in their own words why they approve or disapprove of the way Bush was doing his job. Almost six in 10 disapproved, and they most frequently mentioned the war in Iraq - far ahead of the second issue, the economy.
``To use an unfortunate metaphor, Iraq is a roadside bomb in American politics,'' said Rich Bond, a former national Republican chairman.
Iraq has cast a cloud over Bush's public standing in general. The public's view of the likeability of the affable president has dropped from 63 percent in August to 52 percent now.
``The war is an overriding issue. Look at the body count on a daily basis,'' said Tom Rector, a Democrat from Spokane, Wash.
The president has vowed to stay the course in Iraq, bringing democracy to a country infested with terrorists and rocked by explosions almost daily.
The president gets credit from a majority of Americans for being strong and decisive, but he's also seen by an overwhelming number of people as ``stubborn,'' a perception reinforced by his refusal to yield on issues like the Iraq war, tax cuts and support for staffers under intense pressure.
Eighty-two percent of those polled describe Bush as ``stubborn,'' with seven of every 10 Republicans agreeing with that description.
Concern about the administration's ethics has been fueled by the controversy over flawed intelligence leading up to the Iraq war and the recent indictment of I. Lewis ``Scooter'' Libby, top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice in the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame, a scandal that touched other top officials in the administration.
That loss of trust complicates Bush's efforts to rebuild his standing with the public.
``Honesty is a huge issue because even people who disagreed with his policies respected his integrity,'' said Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist from the University of Texas.
Bush, who promised in the 2000 campaign to uphold ``honor and integrity'' in the White House, last week ordered White House workers, from presidential advisers to low-ranking aides, to attend ethics classes.
Some observers say they aren't impressed.
``It's like shutting the barn door after the horse escaped,'' said John Morrison, a Democrat who lives near Scranton, Pa.
Some Republicans are nervous about the GOP's political position.
``A lot of elected Republicans are running for the hills in the Northeast,'' Connecticut GOP strategist Chris DePino said after citing ``a waterfall of missteps'' by Republicans. Bush and the GOP must return to their message that the United States has been safe from terrorism during his administration, DePino said.
GOP pollster David Winston said Republicans are hoping the strength of the economy and the upcoming elections in Iraq can improve the public's mood about the administration.
Many of those who approve of Bush's job performance pointed to his Christian beliefs and strong values, the second biggest reason given for supporting him - after agreeing with his policies.
``I know he is a man of integrity and strong faith,'' said Fran Blaney, a Republican and an evangelical who lives near Hartford, Conn. ``I've read that he prays every morning asking for God's guidance. He certainly is trying to do what he thinks he is supposed to do.''
The poll of 1,000 adults was conducted Nov. 7-9 by Ipsos, an international polling firm, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
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