After years of political dominance, Republican voters now view their party as divided and say they are not satisfied with the choice of candidates seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, a new opinion polls shows.
Republicans were concerned that their party had drifted from the principles of Ronald Reagan, its most popular figure in past 50 years, the poll conducted for the New York Times /CBS News found.
Forty per cent of Republicans said they expected Democrats to take control of the White House next year, compared with 46 per cent who said they believed a Republican would win. Just 12 per cent of Democrats said they thought the opposing party would win the White House.
Even as Republican voters continued to support President Bush and the war in Iraq, including the recent increase in the number of American troops deployed there, the Times said they opined that a candidate who backed Bush's war policies would be at a decided disadvantage in 2008.
And they suggested that they were open to supporting a candidate who broke with the president on a crucial aspect of his Iraq strategy.
Asked what was more important to them in a nominee, a commitment to stay in Iraq until the United States succeeds or flexibility about when to withdraw, 58 per cent of self-identified Republican primary voters said flexibility versus 39 per cent who said a commitment to stay.
The three leading Republican candidates are strong supporters of the war and the increase in American troops there, the paper noted.
"There is going to be so much anti-war in the news media that there is no way the Republicans are going to win," Randy Miller, 54, a Republican from Kansas, said in a follow-up interview after participating in the poll.
"The Democrats will win because of the war. I think the Republicans just won't vote."
Compared with the Democrats, Republicans appear far less happy with their choice of candidates for 2008 and are still looking for someone who can improve the party's prospects, the poll found.
While nearly 6 in 10 Democratic voters in the poll said they were satisfied with the candidates now in the race for their party's nomination, nearly 6 in 10 Republicans said they wanted more choices.
Yet the poll found that a substantial number of Republicans did not know enough about their leading contenders -- Senator John McCain of Arizona; Rudolph W Giuliani, former mayor of New York; and Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts -- to offer an opinion of them.
Among Republicans, 75 per cent approve of his job performance, and by overwhelming numbers they approve of his handling of foreign policy, the war in Iraq and the management of the economy.
Propelled by this Republican support, the Times said the poll registered an increase in the percentage of Americans who say they approve of Bush's performance; it has increased to 34 per cent now from 29 per cent last month.
And by a 20-point margin, respondents said that if the election were held today they would vote for an unnamed Democrat for president rather than a Republican.
Even as Republicans said they supported Bush's performance, the Times said they showed divisions over the party's ideological makeup; 39 per cent of Republican voters said they wanted the next Republican presidential nominee to continue with Bush's policies; 19 per cent said they wanted the next president to become less conservative, and 39 per cent more conservative.
Republican strategists were quoted as saying that they were not surprised about the poll's findings, though they said Republicans were too pessimistic in concluding now that the party could not win.