WASHINGTON (AP) – Critical elements in President Bush’s political coalition have grown less enthusiastic about the job he is doing, an AP-Ipsos poll found. That’s a troubling development for a president trying to firm up his base of support.

Evangelical voters, Republican men, Southerners and Protestants have lost some intensity in their support for the president since the beginning of this year.

The White House is already struggling to keep the Republican base from eroding because of Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, hurricane-recovery spending projects, immigration and other issues.

“Politically, this is very serious for the president,” said James Thurber, a political scientist at American University. “If the base of his party has lost faith, that could spell trouble for his policy agenda and for the party generally.”

The president’s overall job approval is at 39 percent – with 21 percent strongly approving.

The number of people who strongly approve of Bush’s job performance has eroded over the last year, most notably among key groups like evangelical voters, down from 49 percent who strongly approved in January to 33 percent now; Republican men, down from 57 percent to 42 percent; Protestants, down from 36 percent to 25 percent; and Southerners, down from 32 percent to 22 percent.

While four of five Republicans say they approve of Bush’s job performance, enthusiasm in that support has dipped over the last year.

In December 2004, soon after his re-election, nearly two-thirds of Republicans strongly approved of his job performance. The AP-Ipsos survey found that just half in his own party feel that way now.

“I approve of what the president is doing, but it’s a mixed decision,” said Richard Saulinski, a Republican from Orland Park, Ill. “We should get out of Iraq. It seems like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. I just think we’re dealing with a culture we don’t really understand.”

Bush’s supporters are uneasy about issues such as budget deficits, immigration and his nomination of Miers for the Supreme Court. Social conservatives are concerned about his choice of Miers, a relatively unknown lawyer who has most recently served as White House counsel.

“Bush is trying to get more support generally from the American public by seeming more moderate and showing he’s a strong leader at the same time he has a rebellion within his own party,” Thurber said. “The far right is starting to be very open about their claim that he’s not a real conservative.”

Sentiment about the nation’s direction has sunk to new depths at a time people are anxious about Iraq, the economy, gasoline prices and the management of billions of dollars being spent for recovery from hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Only 28 percent say the country is headed in the right direction, while two-thirds, 66 percent, say it is on the wrong track, the poll found.

The poll of 1,000 adults was conducted by Ipsos, an international polling company, from Monday to Wednesday and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

AP manager of news surveys Trevor Tompson contributed to this story.

On the Net:

Ipsos: http://www.ap-ipsosresults.com

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