DARLENE SUPERVILLE Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON Americans are in a dark mood about the state of the union, the administration, Congress, Iraq and even some personal traits of President Bush, a poll finds. Most believe the country is on the wrong track a complete flip from five years ago, according to an AP-AOL News poll that finds little to cheer about in advance of Bush’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night. Americans see the president as likable, decisive and strong but also stubborn. Only a minority think he is honest 44 percent, down from 53 percent two years ago. And people seem to have little confidence Bush and the Democrats who now control Congress and share responsibility with him for running the country can work together to solve its problems. Only four in 10 think the country will be better off with Democrats in charge of the House and Senate, the poll suggests. Bush’s speech will come nearly two weeks after he told the nation he is sending 21,500 additional U.S. troops to Iraq in a new effort to end violence there. The White House says the speech will focus on a few issues, energy and health care among them, on which Bush might be able to reach agreement with Democrats, who control the House and Senate for the first time during his two-term presidency. Two-thirds of Americans, 66 percent, think the country is on the wrong track. That’s about the same as a year ago, when 65 percent thought so, the poll found. That’s a stark reversal from mid-January 2002, when 68 percent said the country was on the right track and 29 percent said it was not. Then, the nation was still coming to grips with the terrorist strikes four months earlier on New York and Washington that killed nearly 3,000 people. And, U.S. troops Bush sent to Afghanistan had toppled the Taliban government that harbored the terrorists believed responsible. After the U.S. led an invasion of Iraq in March 2003, public support for the mission there began to slide as the war continued, the U. S. death toll climbed and the violence raged on. John Raab, 77, of Allentown, Pa., a conservative Republican, said the United States can change course “if people rally around the president and he can get this fiasco in Iraq under control.” Kerry Moore-O’Leary, a 31-year-old Democrat from Boston, said it will take new leadership. “I really think the only time we are going to see some real changes is when we elect a new president,” she said. “Even people who are moderate Republicans are going to say that we need someone who’s a breath of fresh air.” Lawmakers in both political parties have promised more bipartisanship and comity since the November elections, when voters took away the reins of Congress from Bush’s Republican Party. But the public appears largely skeptical of those pledges. Nearly two-thirds, 60 percent, have no confidence that the political institutions at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue can work together to solve the nation’s problems. Overall, the public has grown less confident since the days after the election when nearly half, 47 percent, expressed confidence that Bush and Congress could work together. Four in 10, or 42 percent, think the country will now be better off with Democrats controlling Congress, while 18 percent think it will be worse off. Thirty-nine percent think it won’t make much difference. Iraq remains the public’s top concern, with 65 percent disapproving of Bush’s handling of the situation.