SAN FRANCISCO - Californians want Congress to move swiftly to end the Iraq war, with nearly 6 in 10 state voters saying lawmakers should set a deadline to start withdrawing U.S. troops by spring, according to a Field Poll released today.
The poll also found new signs that even President Bush's base is abandoning him on the war: 40 percent of California Republicans now favor pulling out some or all troops from Iraq and 30 percent want the Democratic-led Congress to pass legislation to require the president to do so.
Voter anger over Iraq is the main reason Bush's approval ratings in the state have stayed at rock bottom: 26 percent of voters approve of his job performance, compared with 65 percent who disapprove. Only President Richard Nixon dipped to lower levels - a 24 percent approval rating - and that was at the height of the Watergate scandal.
Bush's approval rating also was 26 percent in March, the last time the Field Poll conducted its survey.
"This is the lowest approval rating for an extended period of time of any U.S. president" in California, said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll. "That rating for Nixon was just for one moment in time, and then he resigned."
Bush still has 17 months in office and his ratings could plunge further, especially as he presses ahead with an unpopular war. Democrats in California have long disliked his policies (only 9 percent give him a favorable rating) and most independents share that view (19 percent approve of his job performance).
Bush also is losing support among his base: More than half of state GOP voters approve of his job performance overall - 53 percent - but they give him poor marks on Iraq: 49 percent disapprove of his handling of the war, while 46 percent approve.
"He's had some erosion in support among Republicans," DiCamillo said. "And that's where he could decline further."
Fifty-eight percent of state voters said Congress should pass legislation to start a troop pullout in spring, while 38 percent oppose the idea.
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The new poll, which mirrors the results of national polls on Bush and the war, is likely to embolden House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and other Democratic leaders who are seeking to use congressional leverage to force an end to the Iraq war.
Bush could find himself boxed in: As more Republican voters favor a partial or full withdrawal, he'll likely find less support in Congress for his troop surge, particularly among GOP senators who hold the key to continuing his policy.
"It means the stakes are pretty high with the Petraeus report," said Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in Los Angeles, referring to the report - expected in September - by Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, which will detail the initial results of the troop surge.
"If the report indicates real progress, that may stop the erosion and shore up the president's standing," Pitney said. "But if the report has any hints of pessimism, that slide may continue and pressure for a faster withdrawal will increase."
Californians have long held deep misgivings about the Iraq war, but the new poll shows that a strong majority of voters are now convinced it's time to get out of Iraq. The survey found 39 percent want to withdraw all U.S. troops and 26 percent would withdraw some troops. Only 18 percent of those surveyed would keep the current levels and 10 percent would send more troops.
The switch among Republicans is stark. Two years ago, 26 percent of state GOP voters supported withdrawing some or all U.S. troops from Iraq - now 40 percent support a pullout.
The finding is in line with a new CBS News poll, released this week, which found that 30 percent of voters nationwide favored removing all U.S. troops from Iraq, while 31 percent backed pulling out some. DiCamillo said the CBS News poll shows that the nation is now moving closer to Californians' views on the war.
"I would say voters in this state have been way out in front of their elected representatives with regard to what the policies should be in Iraq," DiCamillo said. "Voters were more in favor of withdrawal even two years ago. ... The legislators are not really keeping pace with the public on this issue."
The poll of 1,029 registered voters was conducted Aug. 3-12. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points and 4.5 percentage points for the smaller groups of party voters.
© 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.