President Bush's job approval ratings are hitting the lowest levels of his tenure as problems in Iraq crowd out other issues for voters, public opinion specialists say.
A Newsweek poll released Saturday put Bush's overall job approval at 42 percent, the lowest yet in that poll. Other recent survey have rated Bush in the mid-40s.
"Iraq is sucking the life out of other issue deliberations among the voters in the campaign," said political scientist Douglas Strand of the University of California-Berkeley.
Strand and Merrill Shanks, also a political scientist at the school, have conducted public opinion research on how various issues are affecting the campaign.
They found Iraq has had a more dominant effect on the campaign since April 1. Gay marriage and other domestic issues have faded from voters' concerns as problems mount in Iraq, Strand said.
April was the bloodiest month for Americans in Iraq and the prisoner abuse scandal has put the Bush administration on the defensive.
The researchers talked about their findings Saturday during the meeting of the American Association for Public Opinion Research.
Bush's approval on how he has handled Iraq has dipped to 35 percent in the Newsweek poll, compared with 44 percent in April. Some 57 percent of respondents said they disapprove.
Despite the doubts about the president's Iraq policy, Bush and his rival, Democrat John Kerry, are essentially tied in a two-way matchup — Kerry at 46 percent and Bush at 45 percent. They are also tied when independent Ralph Nader (news - web sites) is included in the race.
The poll of 1,010 adults, including 832 registered voters, was taken Thursday and Friday. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
"People aren't running out of the Bush column, but his support is softening up," said Larry Hugick, who directed the Newsweek poll for Princeton Survey Research Associates.
He noted that strong support for Bush has dropped in the past month and Bush and Kerry now have about equal amounts of strong supporters.
"Before people are going to jump over to Kerry, they begin to express doubts about Bush," Hugick said. "I think that's what we're seeing."
Researchers say that another reason Kerry has not pulled ahead of Bush in most polls is that voters still have a relatively unformed view of the Democrat.