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Poll: Americans equally split on Bush handling of Iraq

President Bush takes questions during a news conference Saturday.
President Bush takes questions during a news conference Saturday.

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George W. Bush

(CNN) -- Americans appear to be almost equally divided over President Bush's handling of Iraq, according to a newly released Newsweek poll.

When asked whether they approved of Bush's stewardship in Iraq, 47 percent of Newsweek's respondents said "yes" and 46 percent said "no."

Fifty-six percent said the United States was spending too much money for operations in Iraq, compared with just 31 percent who said the spending was about right.

The poll of 1,004 adults had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

When asked about deployment of U.S. troops in Iraq, 49 percent said the numbers should be reduced and troops brought home. Twenty-nine percent said the current strength should be maintained and 14 percent said more troops should be sent.

A majority of respondents in the poll, 51 percent, said the number of U.S. troops should only be reduced if they are replaced by international troops.

A third of those polled said U.S. troops should return home regardless of international participation.

Seventy-two percent said the United States should turn over some authority in Iraq to the United Nations to get other countries to supply money and troops.

Job approval

Fifty-two percent of respondents to the poll said they approved of Bush's job performance as president, compared with 40 percent who said they disapproved. The president's approval ratings have been stable over the past month in Newsweek surveys.

Seventy percent said they approved of Bush's policies to prevent terrorism at home.

Newsweek also compared Bush's approval ratings with those of his predecessors near the same point in their first terms.

His ratings are almost identical to those of Ronald Reagan in the fall of 1983 -- a year before the GOP incumbent carried 49 states in a crushing landslide victory, the magazine reported.

Bush's approval rating is higher now than Bill Clinton's was in September 1995, a year before he won re-election against Republican Sen. Bob Dole.

However, Bush's approval ratings are not as high as those of his father George H. W. Bush in the fall of 1991 -- and the elder Bush lost to Clinton in 1992. Registered voters responding to the poll were about equally split when asked whether they wanted President Bush re-elected in 2004.

Poll: Bush wins in head-to-head match-ups

According to the survey -- if the election were held the day the poll was taken -- Bush would lead Democratic candidates Wesley Clark, Howard Dean, John Kerry, Richard Gephardt or Joseph Lieberman in head-to-head match-ups.

Clark -- a retired Army general -- was the most competitive Democrat in the poll, with 43 percent of registered voters saying they would vote for him and 49 percent preferring Bush.

Clark was the only candidate who held Bush below 50 percent.

Dean -- former governor of Vermont -- and Gephardt -- a Congressman from Missouri -- were the weakest head-to-head contenders against Bush in the poll, each trailing the president by a spread of 14 percentage points.

The margin of error for the head-to-head match-ups was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Among respondents who said they were Democrats or leaned Democratic, Clark topped all Democratic candidates in the poll with 16 percent. Twenty percent of respondents said they were undecided about their Democratic choice.

Dean received 12 percent in the poll. Kerry and Gephardt tied at 10 percent, and Lieberman received 9 percent. The rest of the field -- civil rights activist Al Sharpton, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, and former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois were at 6 percent or less.

The margin of error in the poll of Democratic or Democratic leaning voters was plus or minus 6 percentage points.

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