Poll: Iraq, Lebanon Hurt the U.S. War on Terror

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While President Bush may be getting a slight uptick in his job-approval numbers, the situation in Iraq and Lebanon has been a setback in the war on terrorism, Americans say. According to a new TIME poll, 54% of those surveyed said the U.S. involvement in the war in Iraq has hurt America's standing in the war on terrorism, vs. 40% who feel it has helped. U.S. handling of the conflict between Hizbollah and Israel has caused harm as well, said 51%, vs. 29% who said it has had a positive effect. The Bush Administration does not have "a clear and well thought-out policy to deal with terrorism," said 59%, vs. 36% who disagreed with that statement. Forty-nine percent said the Bush Administration is using the threat of terrorism for political reasons; 45% didn't feel that way.

Despite those concerns, Bush's job-approval ratings lifted a bit. The TIME poll of 1,002 adult Americans, conducted August 22-24, put Bush's rating at 38%, up three percentage points from a TIME poll Aug. 9-10. His handling of the economy rated approval by 38% as well, up five points, and his handling of Iraq edged up to 34%, a four-point improvement. Congress fared worse, with only 30% approving of its performance. Asked how they would vote if elections for Congress were held today, 51% of the registered voters among the respondents said they'd pick a Democrat, while 40% would vote Republican. The numbers include voters who say they lean toward those parties.

In spite of the seeming Democratic edge, the poll suggests a shift in perceptions about which party can better tackle the terrorist threat — 41% of Americans say they feel the Republicans would do a better job of handling that, while 33% feel the Democrats could do better. That's a reversal from five months ago, when 44% picked the Democratic Party and 33% chose the GOP.

Americans seemed to be in a pessimistic mood, at least relatively so: 66% said the country is in "deep and serious trouble today," vs. 30% who said the problems we face are "no worse than at any other time in recent years." Only 5% said things are going "very well" in the country, vs. 47% who said "fairly well," 30% "fairly badly" and 17% "very badly." The No. 1 concern was the economy and jobs (20%), followed by terrorism (13%), the war in Iraq (11%) and high energy prices (8%).