President Bush's job approval has slipped to 58 percent in a new CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll, the first time it has fallen below 60 percent in that poll since before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
While still solid overall, his approval was down 5 points from a week ago. Bush's job approval is higher than that of former presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton at this stage of their presidencies, however, and about the same as his father had 12 years ago.
Public support for his handling of national defense, education and foreign policy remain strong, while the public was divided on his handling of the economy, taxes, the federal budget and health care.
The president's strong suit remains the public's view of his leadership qualities. Three-fourths see him as a strong and decisive leader and almost that many see him as honest. By a solid majority, the public sees him as someone who is willing to make tough decisions, inspires confidence and has a vision for the country's future.
He is more vulnerable on the question of whether he understands the problems of ordinary Americans. People were evenly split on the question of whether he is out of touch with the problems people face in their daily lives.
Six in 10 said he's paying enough attention to the war on terrorism and almost that many, 55 percent, said he's not paying enough attention to the economy.
More than half, 56 percent, said he favors the rich, while about a quarter said he favors the middle class.
When asked which issues would be most important in their vote for president in 2004 would be most important, 52 percent said economic conditions and 32 percent said terrorism. A third said they would definitely vote to re-elect him, a third said they might or might not vote for him and a third said they would not.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer dismissed the poll's findings.
''There are a number of news organizations well represented in this (White House briefing) room who have shown the president to be at such a consistent high popularity level that you've stopped even reporting those facts to your readers or viewers,'' Fleischer said.
The poll of 1,002 adults was taken Jan. 10-12 and has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
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