A Sorry State

President George W. Bush concluded his annual State of the Union address this week with the words "the State of our Union is strong … our cause in the world is right … and tonight that cause goes on." Maybe so, but the state of the Bush administration is at its worst yet, according to the latest NEWSWEEK Poll. The president's approval ratings are at their lowest point in the poll's history—30 percent—and more than half the country (58 percent) say they wish the Bush presidency were simply over, a sentiment that is almost unanimous among Democrats (86 percent), and is shared by a clear majority (59 percent) of independents and even one in five (21 percent) Republicans. Half (49 percent) of all registered voters would rather see a Democrat elected president in 2008, compared to just 28 percent who'd prefer the GOP to remain in the White House.

Public fatigue over the war in the Iraq is not reflected solely in the president's numbers, however. Congress is criticized by nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Americans for not being assertive enough in challenging the Bush administration's conduct of the war. Even a third (31 percent) of rank-and-file Republicans say the previous Congress, controlled by their party, didn't do enough to challenge the administration on the war.

Still, the new poll, which examined the preferences of registered Democrats for their party's presidential nomination in 2008, shows that Sen. Hillary Clinton, an initial supporter of the war, has a 20-point lead over junior Sen. Barack Obama (55 percent to 35 percent) and a 34-point lead over former Sen. John Edwards (63 percent to 29 percent). Obama has a marginal seven-point lead over Edwards (46 percent to 39 percent). On the other side of the aisle, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain are closely matched at this point among Republicans: the mayor is preferred over the Arizona Senator by a statistically insignificant margin of 48 percent to 44 percent. When each GOP frontrunner is matched up against former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, it is no contest. Giuliani beats Romney by 55 points and McCain outpolls him by 50.

With about half (48 percent) of voters nationwide saying their opinion of Bush will be at least "somewhat important" in determining who gets their vote in '08, the two Democratic frontrunners have narrow leads over their potential opponents. In a mock election, Clinton tops McCain by six points (50-44 percent) and barely edges out Giuliani by three (49-46 percent). Obama's lead over both McCain and Giuliani is by the exact same margins (48-42 percent against the former and 47-44 percent against the latter). The races are tighter with Edwards as the Democratic candidate: the former vice presidential candidate edges out McCain by four points (48-44 percent) and is in a statistical dead heat with Giuliani (46-47 percent).

With Bush widely viewed as an ineffectual "lame duck" (by 71 percent of all Americans), over half (53 percent) of the poll's respondents now say they believe history will see him as a below-average president, up three points from last May. The first time this question was asked, in October 2003, as many people thought Bush would go down in history as an above average president as thought we would be regarded as below average (29 to 26 percent). Only 22 percent of those polled think Bush's decisions about Iraq and other major policy are influenced mainly by the facts; 67 percent say the president's decisions are influenced more by his personal beliefs. This perhaps explains why only about half (49 percent) of adult Americans even bothered to watch or listen to any of the State of the Union speech as it happened. Of those, less than half (42 percent) think his energy, health care and other domestic policy proposals are likely to be seriously considered by the new Democratic-controlled Congress. Overall, 61 percent are unsatisfied with the way things are going in America; just 30 percent are satisfied.

The NEWSWEEK poll, conducted Jan. 24-25, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. In conducting the poll, Princeton Survey Research Associates International interviewed 1,003 adults aged 18 and older.