Support for President Erodes; Support for War Still Strong

If the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll can be believed, the Democrats have finally drawn blood with their incessant attacks on the Iraq war.
The poll shows President Bush’s approval rating dropping sharply to 59%–still a pretty good level, but down from 68% less than three weeks earlier. It’s not hard to see what is fueling the drop; by a 50% to 46% margin, respondents agreed that the Bush administration “intentionally exaggerated its evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, such as biological or chemical weapons.” Polls lag the news cycle, so this majority is sure to grow in the short run.
It is interesting that the declining support for the Administration coexists with strong support for the war. By 58% to 41%, respondents approve the President’s handling of “the situation in Iraq.” More striking still, by 74% to 25%, respondents “support” rather than “oppose” the “current U.S. military presence in Iraq.” By 57% to 40%, respondents think the war was worth fighting, and by 62% to 35%, they say it contributed to the security of the U.S.
Now that the Democrats have broken through, they will be emboldened to continue their attacks. They will be joined by enough renegade Republicans to give their “investigations” a patina of bipartisanship. And their effort to destroy the Administration will begin in earnest.
The fly in the ointment for the Democrats, as reflected in this poll, is that they still don’t have a candidate. Democratic-leaning respondents were given the list of candidates and asked whom they favored. Joe Lieberman has led the pack for a while, scoring 29% as recently as April 30, but now he is down to 13%, with Kerry at 12% and Gephardt at 10%. Howard Dean, for all the media buzz, languishes at 8%. And “None” (13%), “Wouldn’t Vote” (7%) and “No Opinion” (16%) now add up to 36% of the total, up from 15% in April.
The old political adage holds that you can’t beat somebody with nobody, and right now the Democrats have nobody. But November 2004 is a long way off, and for the moment President Bush looks vulnerable. Lots of people (including us) have speculated that the Administration may be sitting on WMD news, letting the Democrats get far out on the limb before sawing it off. I doubt that this is true, but if the Administration has a rabbit in that hat, it’s about time to pull it out.

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