WAR IN THE BALKANS: US Opinion - Conflict fears hit Clinton's ratings

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The Independent Online
BILL CLINTON'S poll ratings have plunged to their lowest levels in three years because of America's unhappiness over the war in Kosovo.

The President's approval rating has plummeted from 60 per cent to 53 per cent, according to a survey by USA Today and CNN which was released last night. Despite last year's impeachment and revelations about the President's personal life, the rating has rarely been below 60 per cent since last January, when the Monica Lewinsky affair was first disclosed.

The decline in support seems to stem from rising public opposition to the war in Kosovo. The same poll shows that the proportion of the public supporting the war has also fallen, as the public sees repeated bombing errors. But this has not translated into support for a land option: opposition to ground troops rose to 57 per cent from 55 per cent in the last Gallup poll.

The White House had recorded the same drop in its own internal polling, reports said yesterday, and it was not surprised to see the shift. But the figures show how fragileAmerica's backing for the war is and how quickly dissatisfaction with its conduct can damage the administration.

In Britain, unhappiness about the air war has led to pressure for ground forces, but in the US, support for a land option remains relatively low. US support for the air war peaked in mid-April at about 61 per cent. Support for a ground war reached 60 per cent in late April and has fallen back again.

The poll is a warning sign for the Democrats as they face the opening of the political season this autumn.

The Republicans will feed off the polls, using them as ammunition to pile further pressure on the White House. Republican Senator Trent Lott, the Senate Majority Leader, has said that Congress would not authorise a ground war.

Yesterday was theoretically the deadline by which the White House should have officially consulted Congress under the War Powers Act, which regulates the Congressional right to declare war.