Here are some highlights from our new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll:
-- Public discontent with the Iraq war has slightly eased, increasing President Bush's political maneuvering room at a critical point in debates over war costs and troop levels. Those shifts in public opinion remain modest. Yet only one in four Americans say troops should leave now regardless of conditions on the ground. However modest, the gains come as welcome news for the White House as it seeks to hold enough Republican Congressional support to sustain Mr. Bush’s Iraq policy through the end of his term.
-- The proportion of Americans who say the war remains winnable has edged up to 37% from 32% in in July, while the majority who say it isn't has diminished to 56% from 62%. The proportion saying the troop surge is helping the situation on the ground has risen to 33% from 29% in July and 24% in April.
-- Mr. Bush's approval rating on Iraq is still paltry at 30%. But that's up from 22% in July, while approval for his handling of the economy remained unchanged at 38%. That changed, driven by improved marks among Republicans, independents and men, pushed Mr. Bush's overall approval rating up to 33% from 31% in July.
-- Asked about possible outcomes, just 24% say U.S. troops should leave only after Iraq becomes a stable democracy. Yet just 26% say troops should start leaving now regardless of conditions on the ground. A 37% plurality says some troops should remain in the region even after leaving Iraq to prevent violence from spreading.
-- Just 17% say U.S. troops should remain in Iraq so long as military progress is being made. But another 46% remain open to "continuing in the same direction" if Iraq makes political progress, of which Mr. Crocker concedes there has been precious little. Some 34% say staying the course makes no sense under any circumstances.
-- Republicans remain deeply in the hole even if President Bush can sustain the U.S. commitment to Iraq. By 47% to 35%, Americans say they want Democrats rather the Republicans to win control of Congress next year. And by 49%-36%, Americans say they want a Democrat elected to succeed Mr. Bush in 2008.
-- In the fight for the Republican nomination, former New York City Rudy Giuliani continues to lead with 32%. But Mr. Giuliani's margin over former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, who formally entered the race last month, has narrowed to six percentage points from 13 points in July. Drawing strong support from Republican conservatives, Mr. Thompson has moved clearly into second place with 26% to 14% for Sen. John McCain of Arizona and 11% for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
-- In the more stable Democratic contest, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York retains a robust 44% to 23% advantage over Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina remains the only other Democrat in double figures nationally with 16%.
-- Whoever wins the Democratic nomination may hold an initial advantage over the Republican Party's choice. In potential November matchups, Mrs. Clinton leads Mr. Giuliani by 49%-42%, Mr. Thompson by 50%-41% and Mr. Romney by 51%-38%. Mr. Obama leads Mr. Thompson by 47%-38% and Mr. Romney by 51%-34%.
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