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Monday, April 7

Support for troops means boost for Bush

By Richard Benedetto | GNS

WASHINGTON - The American public's traditional rally around the flag in time of war is also boosting President Bush's standing.

A USA TODAY-CNN-Gallup Poll taken this past weekend puts Bush's overall job approval at 70 percent.

That is 12 percentage points higher than the 58 percent rating he received in mid-March, just before the Iraq war began and he was embroiled in trying to win a United Nations resolution authorizing use of force in Iraq.Now, 80 percent rate him as a ``strong and decisive leader,'' the highest grade he ever has received on that quality. It is even higher than his post-Sept. 11 rating of 75 percent.

One month before the Sept. 11 attacks, when Bush was largely an untested president, 55 percent considered him a ``strong and decisive leader.''

Other measures of Bush's personal qualities also have risen:

- 73 percent say he is honest and trustworthy, up from 70 percent in January.

- 70 percent say he inspires confidence, up from 65 percent in January.

- 65 percent say he cares about the needs of people like you, up from 56 percent in January.

The April 5-6 poll of 1,009 adults has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Analysts note that the Bush ratings could be artificially high because of the war and public desire to back the president when troops are in harm's way. And they add that the numbers could drop again once fighting stops and the public focuses more on Bush's leadership on domestic issues.

``That's where he could be vulnerable. He has to perform on the economy, too,'' said Thad Beyle, a University of North Carolina political scientist.

But Karlyn Bowman, polling analyst at the American Enterprise Institute here, said the lofty scores Bush has managed to put on the board ``set an awfully high bar'' for his Democratic challengers to get over.

``You have to establish yourself as a strong leader to be a strong candidate and Bush has done that,'' she said.

On overall job approval, Republicans and independents give Bush his highest scores, 96 percent and 68 percent, respectively. Democrats are least approving at 44 percent.

Men are slightly more approving than women, 74 percent to 67 percent.