« Has Clark Found His Voice–Both Literally and Figuratively? | Main | Send Lawyers, Gun Safety and Money »

Et Tu, Newsweek?

Here’s the latest national poll of adults suggesting that the “Bush bounce” was–how can this be put most delicately?–a wee bit over overblown. According to this just-released Newsweek poll, conducted October 23-24, Bush’s approval rating is now 51 percent–exactly what it was in their last poll on October 9-10.

The Newsweek poll does find a small increase in Bush’s job approval rating on Iraq–up 4 points to 48 percent–no doubt reflecting the administration’s “good news” offensive on Iraq. But that’s still 26 points down from what it was when troops entered Baghdad in mid-April.

Moreover, 58 percent now think too much money is being spent on the Iraq operation and 56 percent think troops should be reduced and some should come home, up 7 points since the end of September. The former figure points to a significant political liability: 48 percent now say the amount of money being spent to rebuild postwar Iraq would make them less likely to vote for him in ‘04, compared to 28 percent who say it would make them more likely.

The poll also shows the economy continuing to top the list of issues voters say will be very important to their vote in the next election. Voters’ views on the economy, of course, continue to be extraordinarily negative. And, critically, they are unconvinced progress is being made.

DR flagged the Pew Center result yesterday that showed less than one-fifth of the public believes Bush’s economic policies are making the economy better. And check out these figures from Gallup asking respondents to compare three years ago–the beginning of Bush’s administration–to today. Gallup also provides January, 1992 poll readings on the same questions for comparison purposes.

Are you better off than you were three years ago?: 50 percent say yes, 42 percent say no. In January, 1992, 50 percent said yes and 38 percent say no.

Is it easier to buy things than it was three years ago?: 41 percent say yes, 46 percent say no. In January, 1992, 36 percent said yes, 51 percent said no.

Finally, is there more unemployment than there was three years ago?: 77 percent say yes, 16 percent say no. In January, 1992, 84 percent said yes and 11 percent said no.

For the Bushies, that’s gotta be too close for comfort. And to make things even more anxiety-provoking, today 27 percent say the US is as respected in the world as three years ago, while 68 percent say we are not. But In January, 1992, things were markedly better: 40 percent said we were as respected as three years previously, compared to 50 percent who said we weren’t.

Well, as they say, history never repeats itself....except when it does.


Looking over the poll numbers from Pew and Newsweek, a couple of things stand out for me. First, it's interesting how deep the support for Bush's bellicose foreign policy continues to be for the great majority of voters.

For instance, note how easily the Administration is able to counterattack media criticisms of its Iraq policies with its accusation of media distortions-- a 4 percent turn around in just one week! Apparently there is a deep need for certain illusions to be nursed back to health. Look also at the 55% who say Bush's policies on terrorism make him more appealing as a candidate. All of this in the face of mounting setbacks in the Bush go-it-alone project of empire building.

Second, consider the huge disconnect between the public's professed interest in bread and butter economic issues (state of the economy/education/healthcare/social security/ medicare) and its continuing obliviousness to the impact of Bush economic policies (39% saying the tax cuts make no difference).

In his book, What Liberal Bias?, Eric Alterman documents the profoundly un-liberal bias of the American media when it comes to economic issues. The fact that 80% of the public continues to rely on television for its news goes a long way toward explaining how the impact of Bush economic policy remains invisible to most citizens.

One interesting result of the Pew poll was that relatively more people are relying upon the internet for their news-- a mere 20%, but an upward shift that is perhaps notable. My guess is that, until alternative media edge up into (at least) the high 20's as a preferred source of media, Democrats are going to have a tough time getting their economic message through to enough people. In other words, Democrats may have even more at stake in criticizing the mass media than does Bush.

On Iraq, the deep background of support for unthinking aggression should give everyone pause, especially progressives who tend to idealize the "common decency" of the American people. Unfortunately, there is too much evidence that significant American majorities can be relied upon to support pretty much any exercise of force in the world, regardless of the justification (or lack thereof).

Where does that leave a party that stands for a different set of values in foreign policy? Do we basically throw up our hands and adopt the GOP's belligerence? Or do we clearly articulate an alternative vision for America's place in the world?

As long as the media continues to disguise Bush culpability on the economic front, the battle for voter support may ultimately be waged on this issue of foreign policy. Unfortunately, at this point, Bush still seems to be holding most of the cards.