Diageo, the world’s leading spirits, beer and wine company, and The Hotline, the leading daily news briefing on American politics, have teamed up to bring you the Diageo/Hotline Poll. The poll is conducted monthly by Financial Dynamics, a specialist communications consultancy, focusing public opinion research on important national issues to inform and stimulate debate.

An increasing majority of Americans say the country is headed in the wrong direction and disapprove of President Bush’s job performance, citing his handling of Iraq and economic policy as the top reasons.  The number of Republicans who see the country heading in the wrong direction has spiked to an all-time high, and the number of Republicans “strongly” approving of Bush’s job has dropped to an all-time low.  Americans across the political spectrum want new leaders to represent both political parties, with strong interest in Condoleezza Rice, John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  McCain wins the hypothetical two-way presidential match-up against Clinton, and he would beat nominees from both parties if he were to run as an Independent.

The latest Diageo/Hotline Poll of 700 registered voters, with an oversample of 100 registered Republicans, conducted by Financial Dynamics with analysis by Ed Reilly (D) and Ed Rollins (R), found 66% of Americans say the country is headed in the wrong direction, a six-point jump since last month. Meanwhile, 41% of Republicans say the country is headed in the wrong direction, a 12-point spike since last month. Bush’s job approval among voters remains virtually unchanged at 39% approval and 59% disapproval.

When asked why they disapprove of Bush’s job performance, the most common reasons are the Iraq War
and economic policies (31% and 23%), while recent issues like Hurricane Katrina and judicial nominations are less commonly cited (16% and 9%). Among Republicans, the Iraq War was also the top reason for disapproving of Bush’s job performance (34%). When Republicans are asked what is the most important issue facing America today, 10% cite their opposition to the Iraq War – more than double the four percent who volunteered their opposition to the same question last month. Republicans “strongly” approving of Bush’s job has dropped to 37%, down eight points since last month and the lowest rating in the past year.

In a hypothetical presidential race, voters prefer McCain to Clinton by 52% to 39% – with 23% of Democrats saying they would vote for McCain. In general, 14% of Democrats say they would be “very likely” to vote for McCain if he runs for president in 2008. Many Americans say they would support McCain as the Republican nominee or an Independent candidate, and a majority say his party affiliation would not make a difference. If McCain were to run as an independent against Clinton and Jeb Bush as the Republican nominee, 40% of Americans would vote for McCain, compared to 34% for Clinton and 18% for Bush. Republican strategist Ed Rollins said, “According to these numbers, the GOP needs John McCain more than McCain needs the GOP.”