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Poll: Iraq costs worry Americans

Majority approve of Bush's performance

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(CNN) -- A majority of Americans approve of President Bush's performance, but they are equally divided over his handling of the situation in Iraq and are skittish about the postwar costs and the continued deployment of U.S. troops, according to the latest Newsweek survey.

The poll found that 52 percent approve of Bush's performance as president, compared with 40 percent who disapprove. His approval ratings have been stable during the past month in Newsweek surveys.

It also showed that Wesley Clark, the newest entrant into the race for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, has vaulted to the top of the 10-candidate field. Still, he had the support of only 16 percent of Democratic-leaning voters. Twenty percent said they were undecided.

Despite seeing his approval ratings fall nearly 20 percentage points since the end of major combat in Iraq, Bush still leads all five leading Democratic contenders in head-to-head matchups, the poll found.

When asked whether they approved of Bush's stewardship in Iraq, 47 percent of Newsweek's respondents said "yes" and 46 percent "no." However, a majority, 56 percent, said the United States was spending too much money for operations in postwar Iraq, compared with just 31 percent who said the spending was about right.

When asked about the deployment of U.S. troops in Iraq, 49 percent said the numbers should be reduced and troops brought home, 29 percent said the current strength should be maintained and 14 percent thought more troops should be sent.

But 51 percent of respondents said the number of U.S. troops should be reduced only if they are replaced by international troops. Only a third thought they should be brought home even if other countries do not supply troops.

More than two-thirds of respondents, 72 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.

By a margin of 55 percent to 37 percent, poll respondents said they disapproved of the way Bush is handling the economy, and he also had a negative approval ratings on taxes and health care.

But 70 percent approved of his policies to prevent terrorism at home, and pluralities also approved of Bush's handling of the environment, education and foreign policy in general.

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

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

His ratings are almost identical to those of Ronald Reagan in fall 1983 -- a year before Reagan carried 49 states in a landslide. He is more popular than Bill Clinton was in September 1995, a year before he, too, won re-election.

However, Bush's approval ratings are below those of his father in fall 1991 -- and the elder Bush lost in 1992. Registered voters in the poll were about equally split when asked whether they wanted President Bush re-elected in 2004.

Clark transforms Democratic camp

Among respondents who said they were registered Democrats or have Democratic leanings, Clark had 16 percent support, followed by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean at 12 percent; Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri tied at 10 percent; and Sen. Joseph Lieberman at 9 percent. The other candidates were at 6 percent or less.

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

The biggest impact of Clark's candidacy, according to the poll, has been on Gephardt and Lieberman.

In July, Gephardt had 14 percent support and Lieberman had 13 percent. In January, Lieberman led the field in the Newsweek poll with 22 percent.

In contrast, the rest of the candidates, including Dean and Kerry, had about the same level of support in the latest poll as they had in July, before Clark's entry.

Were the election held today, Bush would lead Clark, Dean, Kerry, Gephardt or Lieberman in head-to-head matchups, according to the poll.

Clark was the most competitive Democrat in the poll, with 43 percent of registered voters saying they would pick him and 49 percent preferring Bush. He was the only candidate who would hold Bush below 50 percent, the poll says.

Dean and Gephardt were the weakest contenders against Bush in the poll, trailing by 14 percentage points.

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

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