Elon University Poll finds overall approval for Bush steady; declining support for handling of Iraqi war

The percentage of North Carolinians who approve of President Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq has declined, but the president’s overall approval rating remains steady, according to the latest Elon University Poll.

The statewide poll of 557 adults was conducted Nov. 17-20 by the Elon Institute for Politics and Public Affairs and has a margin of error of 4.2 percent.

The poll found that 45 percent of those surveyed strongly approved or approved of the president’s conduct of the war, down from 52 percent in September. Forty-three percent strongly disapproved or disapproved of Bush’s handling of the war, up 10 percentage points from 33 percent in September.

A sizable majority of North Carolinians continue to support President Bush’s decision to go to war, however. Sixty-five percent said the United States was right to use military force in Iraq, down about three percentage points since September. But the difference was within the poll’s margin of error. Twenty-nine percent disagreed with the decision, up five percentage points from September.

“While there appears to be growing dissatisfaction with President Bush’s current handling of the war, most North Carolinians do not seem ready to second-guess the president’s decision to use force in Iraq,” said Tim Vercellotti, director of the Elon University Poll.

President Bush’s handling of the economy also was a source of concern for those surveyed. Forty-five percent strongly disapproved or disapproved of the president’s handling of the economy, while 38 percent strongly approved or approved.

But a majority of North Carolinians still endorse the overall job that the president is doing. Fifty-three percent strongly approved or approved of Bush’s performance as president, down from 56 percent in September but still within the margin of error for the November survey.

The Elon University Poll also found that North Carolinians are only beginning to pay attention to the upcoming presidential election in 2004. Less than one-third of the sample, 31 percent, said they were following the presidential race very closely or closely.

This also was reflected in the number of those surveyed who could name a Democrat running for the presidential nomination. Thirty-seven percent of those polled could not name a single Democratic candidate for president, despite the presence of Senator John Edwards in the field.

Sixty-three percent could name one candidate, and about half of those individuals, 49 percent, named Edwards. Only 44 percent of the sample could name two candidates for the Democratic nomination. The levels of knowledge were fairly consistent when narrowing the sample to registered voters, and knowledge did not vary significantly across party lines.

“While the presidential race is of intense interest to party activists, journalists and scholars, the average citizen is only starting to turn his or her attention to next year’s election,” Vercellotti said.

When asked to consider the relative importance of various issues in choosing a presidential candidate, the largest proportion of those surveyed emphasized jobs. Eighty-seven percent said presidential candidates’ plans for job creation would be very important or important as they decide whom to support next year.

Seventy-eight percent of North Carolinians said candidates’ plans for reforming the Social Security system were very important or important, while 74 percent stressed plans to balance the federal budget. Lowest in priority among the seven issues posed to those surveyed were candidates’ plans for rebuilding Iraq. Only 43 percent rated those plans as very important or important.

“Domestic issues, at least for now, are of greatest concern to North Carolinians as the presidential election season approaches,” Vercellotti said.

In terms of state policy issues, those responding to the survey were fairly evenly divided on whether the state should halt executions of death row inmates to allow for a study of whether the death penalty is fairly applied.

Forty-one percent of those surveyed strongly supported or supported a proposed two-year moratorium on carrying out the death penalty, while 38 percent strongly opposed or opposed the idea. This came despite the fact that 62 percent of those surveyed said they strongly support or support the death penalty.

This poll is the 21st conducted by the Elon Institute for Politics and Public Affairs since it was established in September 2000. The non-partisan Elon Poll conducts frequent statewide scientific telephone polls on issues of importance to North Carolinians. The poll results are shared with media, citizens and researchers to facilitate representative democracy and public policy making through the better understanding of the opinions and needs of North Carolina citizens.

The Elon Poll is conducted by students who work under the direction of faculty members in the political science department. A computerized polling center located on campus is equipped with sophisticated statistical software and 27 telephone polling stations.