Half of all Americans doubt whether they can trust President George Bush four months after he took office, according to a nationwide poll, commissioned by Time magazine and CNN. The poll follows in the wake of Senator Jim Jeffords' defection from the ruling Republican party last week.
The crisis, which tips the balance of power in favor of the Democratic party in the Senate, has raised questions about the Bush administration's decision to push ahead with a strongly conservative agenda in spite of its weak mandate. Mr Jeffords renounced his party membership in protest at what he saw as the government's hardline approach on education and the environment.
In the poll carried out just after this decision was announced on Thursday, 53% of Americans said they had doubts and reservations about whether or not Mr Bush was a leader they could trust.
The survey of more than 1,000 Americans also revealed a worrying lack of support for some of the president's favorite policy initiatives. Only 38% approved of his plans to deal with the country's energy problems, for example.
Under plans drawn up by Vice-President Dick Cheney, the US is to encourage more fuel supplies from controversial sources such as nuclear energy and fossil fuel. Mr Jeffords, who represents Vermont, joined the Senate in the mid-1960s on a pro-environment platform.
After supporting the Bush candidacy during last year's campaign, Mr Jeffords was horrified by the apparent volte-face on several key policy initiatives, including energy and special needs education.
The Time/CNN poll, which is subject to a 3% margin of error, also found that Bush's approval rating had slipped from 55% in March to 52%.
Even after the fall, however, Bush is enjoying higher approval ratings than Bill Clinton did at this point in his first term, but significantly lower than that of his father George Bush Sr.
If Mr Bush were to run in 2004, half of all Americans said it was "somewhat unlikely" or "very unlikely" they would vote for him.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001