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Old 02-13-2004, 11:58 AM
Oklahoma Joe

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Default In a head-to-head matchup, Kerry beat Bush, 52 percent to 43 percent

Majority of Americans Doubt Bush's WMD Claims

Support for President Bush Drops to 50 Percent in Latest Post-ABC News

By Richard Morin and Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writers

Most Americans believe President Bush either lied or deliberately
exaggerated evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction
in order to justify war, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News

The survey results, which also show declining support for the war in
Iraq and for Bush's leadership in general, indicate the public is
increasingly questioning the president's truthfulness -- a concern for
Bush's political advisers as his reelection bid gets underway.

Barely half -- 52 percent -- now believe Bush is "honest and
trustworthy," down seven points since late October and his worst
showing since the question was first asked in March 1999.

At his best, in the summer of 2002, Bush was viewed as honest by 71

The survey found that while nearly seven in 10 think Bush "honestly
believed" Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, 54 percent thought
Bush exaggerated or lied about pre-war intelligence.

Honesty and credibility have been central to Bush's appeal since the
2000 campaign, when he benefited from disgust over President Bill
Clinton's lies about the Lewinsky affair and when Bush's campaign
accused Al Gore of "saying one thing and doing another."

But a number of factors, including the failure to find unconventional
weapons in Iraq and the administration's underestimating of its
Medicare prescription drug plan's costs appear to have undermined
perceptions of his credibility.

Bush's possible Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), has
begun to talk about a "credibility gap."

Even some Bush allies say they have been misled about Iraq's weapons,
and the current Time magazine cover story asks:

"Believe him or not -- does Bush have a credibility gap?"

Questions about Bush's use of pre-war intelligence, in addition to
feeding doubts about his honesty, have sent his job rating plummeting.

Fifty percent of Americans approve of the job he is doing, the lowest
level of his presidency in the Post-ABC poll and down 8 percentage
points from January.

The survey found that, for the first time since the war ended, fewer
than half of Americans -- 48 percent -- believe the war was worth
fighting, down 8 points from last month.

Fifty percent said the war was not worth it.

These doubts have affected Bush's reelection prospects.

In a head-to-head matchup, Kerry beat Bush, 52 percent to 43 percent,
among registered voters polled by the Post.

Bush had more passionate support -- 85 percent of his backers said
their support was strong while 62 percent of Kerry supporters said so
-- and retains an advantage over Kerry in dealing with Iraq and the
war on terrorism.

But the Democrat was seen as better able to handle the economy and
jobs, education and health care -- all top issues with voters this

The survey found a steep drop in public perceptions of Bush as a
president and as an individual.

In a sign that Bush has been set back by recent controversies over
Iraqi weapons, his National Guard record and the federal budget, the
number of Americans viewing him as a "strong leader" has slipped to 61
percent, down 6 points from December and the lowest level since the
2001 terrorist attacks.

Bush's rating on handling the economy stood at 44 percent, down 7
percentage points, with nearly half of the public saying they are
worse off now than they were three years ago when Bush became

Six in 10 disapprove of the job Bush is doing creating jobs.

On education, 47 percent said they approve of the job Bush is doing,
down 8 points from January.

And his handling of health care also has fallen.

But the president's declining ratings related to Iraq were most

Approval of his handling of the situation there has fallen to 47
percent, down eight points in the past three weeks.

About half of Americans -- 51 percent -- said they would prefer a
report evaluating the accuracy and use of pre-war intelligence before
the election, while 35 percent favor what Bush has ordered: a broader
study of the overall accuracy of U.S. intelligence gathering
operations that reports its findings after the election.

While 21 percent believe Bush lied about the threat posed by Iraq, a
larger number -- 31 percent -- thought he exaggerated but did not lie.

Indeed, six in 10 Americans believed, as Bush did, that Iraq had such

Three in four Democrats said Bush either lied or exaggerated about
what was known about Iraqi's weapons while an equally large majority
of Republicans said the president did neither.

Slightly more than half of all independents believed Bush had mislead
the public about Iraqi's weapons cache.

"I think he was believing what he wanted to believe," said one
respondent, Ron Perholtz, an accountant from Jupiter, Fla.

"I can't say he's dishonest. He heard what he wanted to hear. He's
manipulatableby [Vice President] Cheney and others."

Many respondents expressed regrets about the Iraq war.

For example, Mike Richcreek, 52, of Warner Robbins, Ga., believes Bush
neither exaggerated nor lied.

"He went by what the intelligence given to him showed," Richcreek

But, at the same time, Richcreek said he has begun to doubt the merits
of the war.

"I'm not sure now we should have gone to war in the first place," he

"You think of all of our young kids getting killed. That's a problem.
I'm glad I didn't have to make the decision."

A total of 1,003 randomly selected adults were interviewed Feb 10 to

The margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus
3 percentage points.

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