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Bush and Independent Voters

Bush’s tumble in the polls has been widely-observed and documented. But one thing that has not received as much attention as it should is how very poorly Bush is doing with independent voters. And without fairly strong support from independent voters, he is unlikely to prevail in November, 2004.

Consider these data from the latest CBS/New York Times poll. This poll has Bush’s approval rating at just 51 percent (pretty much identical with his rating in August, 2001, just before the September 11 terrorist attacks) But among independents, it’s considerably worse: 43 percent approval and 45 percent disapproval. Same story on handling foreign affairs (44 percent approval overall, but 38 percent approval/48 percent disapproval among independents) and on handling the Iraq situation (47 percent approval overall, but 40 percent approval/52 percent disapproval among independents). And on handling the economy, where Bush generally does the worst, his overall rating is an anemic 37 percent, but among independents, it’s a staggeringly bad 28 percent approval with 63 percent disapproval.

There are a number of other examples: today just 41 percent of the public thinks Bush has the same priorities as they do, which is pretty bad as is. But among independents, the figures are notably lop-sided: a mere 30 percent think he shares their priorities, 65 percent think he does not. Similarly, an unimpressive 40 percent overall have confidence in Bush’s ability to make the right decisions about the economy, but among independents, only a truly dismal 31 percent have such confidence, with 65 percent professing lack of confidence. Finally, 41 percent overall still believe the result of the war with Iraq was worth the loss of American life and other costs, but among independents, this falls to 33 percent who believe the result was worth the costs, with 60 percent believing the contrary.

These are remarkable figures. Which leads DR to ask: given the political importance generally attached to independent voters, why isn’t Bush’s strikingly bad image among them a bigger story?