WASHINGTON — President Bush's job approval has dipped below 40 percent for the first time in the AP-Ipsos poll, reflecting widespread doubts about his handling of gasoline prices and the response to Hurricane Katrina.
Nearly four years after Bush's job approval soared into the 80s after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Bush was at 39 percent job approval in an AP-Ipsos poll taken this week. That's the lowest since the the poll was started in December 2003.
The public's view of the nation's direction has grown increasingly negative as well, with nearly two-thirds now saying the country is heading down the wrong track.
"As a nation, we are pretty well stretched," said Barry Allen, a political independent from Reed City, Mich. "I approve of some of the things the president has done, and disapprove of others. Overall, I disapprove."
Allen said he liked some of Bush's economic steps during his first term but has been dissatisfied with the president's economic moves in his second term, his Iraq policy and his handling of gasoline prices.
Allen worries Hurricane Katrina has taken the wind out of an economy that was moving in the right direction.
With gasoline racing past $3 a gallon, Bush's standing on dealing with those prices may be one of his biggest problems — seven in 10 said they disapprove.
And just over half in the poll, 52 percent, said they disapprove of the president's handling of the hurricane.
For Bill Kane of Kingsland, Ga., the government's slow response to the hurricane "was terrifying to see in our own country. It made you mad, because it made you think where's our money going?"
More evidence of problems with the storm response surfaced Friday when the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced it would discontinue a 2-day-old program to issue debit cards to displaced families.
The administration also dumped FEMA Director Michael Brown, who had come to symbolize the stumbling early days of the hurricane response, as commander of Katrina relief efforts.
Brown once served as the judges and stewards commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association.
"Bush puts people in jobs who don't know what they're doing," said Shirley Carignan, a retiree and a political independent from Weymouth, Mass. "I think he's picking friends for these jobs. My girlfriend raises Arabians. You know horses, so what? Horses and people are different things."
The number of people who think the country is on the wrong track grew from 59 percent last month to 65 percent this month. Tumbling consumer confidence after Hurricane Katrina may be contributing to that sense of pessimism.
The RBC CASH Index, based on polling by Ipsos, showed that consumer confidence sank in September to the lowest level since early March 2003 before the start of the Iraq war.
Economic woes and a continuing war in Iraq have been complicated by the continuing hurricane recovery crisis.
"A lot of Americans don't pay attention to their leaders on a day-to-day basis," said Robert Blendon, a public opinion analyst at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "They measure presidents, governors and mayors on how they handle big events like a hurricane. This event is not over because the bodies are going to be discovered day by day."