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Public Souring on Bush

The latest Gallup poll documents the increasingly sour mood of the public about President Bush and, critically, many of his personal characteristics.

Start with his overall approval rating: down to 50 percent with 47 percent disapproval–tied with a mid-September poll for the worst of his presidency. Then consider items like whether Bush “is in touch with the problems ordinary Americans face in their daily lives”. Only 42 percent say this applies to Bush; 57 percent say it does not.

Or how about whether Bush “generally agrees with you on issues you care about”–right now, just 48 percent say this characteristic applies to Bush, down from 64 percent the last time Gallup asked this, in May of 2002. And the same number, 48 percent, say Bush “can get the economy moving”, with 50 percent saying he cannot.

Well, does Bush share their values? An underwhelming 53 percent believe he does, down from 66 percent at the time of last November’s election. And does Bush “care about the needs of people like you”? Uh-uh, says the public, by 50 percent to 49 percent. That’s a 16 point swing from the end of June, when the public believed, by 57 percent to 42 percent, that he did care about the needs of people like them.

How about whether he “is a person you admire”? Right now, it’s a 50 percent to 49 percent split in favor of “admire”–but that’s down from a 54 percent to 45 percent split in June of this year and a 64 percent to 33 percent split in May of last year. And here’s the kicker: the number who believe he is “honest and trustworthy” is down 14 points–from 73 percent to 59 percent–just since early April. If that number keeps heading downward, that’s particularly bad news for Bush, who has relied heavily on a bond of personal trust with the public to buoy his presidency.

Even Bush’s traditionally strong suit of being a “strong and decisive leader” has been taking a big hit. In early April, 80 percent said that characteristic applied to Bush; now that’s down to 66 percent, a 14 point drop.

Of course, people still seem to like the guy at some level: 68 percent say they approve of Bush “as a person”, a number appears to have changed little during the course of the Bush presidency. At the margin that perception might help Bush a bit in ‘04. But if this is what the Republican spin-meisters are reduced to using as an indicator of Bush’s popular support, Democrats shouldn’t be intimidated. Far from it.

Now all we need is the right candidate to beat Mr. Nice-Guy-But-Not-Much-Else-Going-For-Him. Back to that issue soon.


It just amazes me how durable the "nice guy" myth is. I can almost understand how it gets perpetuated but how the hell did it get sold in the first place.

If I were promoting push-polling on Bush, I would use the following:

Q: Do you think that someone openly mocks somone on death row pleading for her life is a "nice guy?"

Q: Do you think a kid who is enterained by cramming firecrackers into the body cavities of frogs to watch them blow up can grow up to be trusted to be president?

Q: Would you consider someone who used his connections with local governments to condemn land to push landowners off their property so that he and his friends can make a killing a good steward of public trust?

And so on. There is really very little that is nice about this guy.

Off topic, and maybe there's a post here coming about it, but will DR chime in on the Washington Post story from today about a particular historical trend that favors Bush's re-election? Dana Milbank, whose reporting I greatly respect, wrote about how the lack of a primary challenger to Bush, with his strong and steady appeal to his base, could be the decisive factor in putting him over the top.

DR, I have a tangentially related thought/question.

I've noticed that in each of the major surveys we've seen, Bush has performed poorly among Independents.

I also read an article recently that the number of registered Republicans and the number of registered Democrats are roughly equal. So, assuming that Republican support for Bush equals Democratic disapproval, the Independents ought to define his approval rating. And, again, Bush has not be doing well among Independents lately.

However, his approval ratings still hover above 50%, and he still leads all Democratic contenders in one-on-one matchups. This doesn't make any mathematical sense.

Are the major pollsters undersampling Democratic voters?

One other thing: I remember one other president with high personal likeability ratings who went down in flames after one term: Jimmy Carter.

I've been telling anyone who would listen that 2004 would be 1980 in reverse. This just reinforces that idea in my mind.

Just asking these questions seems like push polling to me. Does Gallup ask this consistantly or did the constant lying coming from the White House provoke them to inquire the public on the issue. Just asking the question might plant the idea and have the effect of asking: "When did you stop beating your wife".

Gallup: Changing Public Opinion- 500 Voters at a Time!

Yay to Ruy for addressing this issue.

Below, Alan wonders at how the "nice guy" myth got started and how it gets perpetuated. My response would be that three major factors feed into Bush's nice guy image:

First, he is genuinely affable in person; his personality doesn't appeal to me, but let's just admit that lots of people who have met him, especially in the media, find him charming.

Second, not surprising, the media squelches anything that contradicts the nice-guy image. Remember the tale of the Karla Faye Tucker-mocking incident: reported by a conservative in Talk magazine, but not picked up by any of the majors. Remember also Frank Bruni's worshipful reporting for the NYT during the election, and then some of the appalling observations he had in his (still-worshipful) book about the campaign, observations that never made it into his contemporaneous reportage.

Third, spineless Democrats. They sit back and watch their candidates torn apart (patriotism questioned, honesty impugned, motivations denounced), but they do not respond in kind. Ideally, they would find a way to counter the abuse without resorting to ad hominem attacks themselves. But short of that, they should engage in tit for tat. Certainly, hewing to gentleman's rule of civility isn't working.

i was recently looking over bush's numbers over at one of the polling sites and it got me thinking. with the exception of the 9/11 bounce and another bounce after his attack of afganastan bush's numbers have always been trending downward. his 1st year in office was lack luster to say the least and just prior to 9/11 he was huvering just over 50% approval. i recall most american were very skeptical about weather the tax cuts would have any effect on the economy - (any doubts now?). it seems pretty clear thta all the mystic that followed 9/11 has evaporated but i still don't see the kind of decline in numbers that leads me to believe he is in real trouble yet. many of the numbers remain consistently above 50% and he continues to win favorable ratings when matched head to head with any candidates.

i am all for the dems winning - i have still not decided who i am for. i keep vacilating between clark and dean. i read a lot of posts over at dkos and other site suggesting that anyone can beat this president because he has been a failure on so many fronts. my thoughts are that this is terribly naive and potentially disasterous. we have misunderestimated this president once and i hope we don't do it again. with regard to his numbers - i would feel a lot more confident if they were consistently showing between 40% and 45%, then we could right bush off for 2004.

Re: Poll Numbers and Primary Challengers

Once again, check this page


to see that ALL recent presidents have had poll ratings at about 50% at exactly this point in their presidency. Eerie, but true. Wait until about February to see if he is over or under 50%.

Secondly, nobody excepting us political nerds know anything about the democrats running at this point. The american public will need to be sold (or not sold) on the actual person nominated by the democrats before any matchup numbers will really mean anything. Again, we need to wait a little longer.

Thirdly, on the opinion piece about primary challengers - this can safely be ignored. I agree with Ruy's main point: W is in BIG trouble. His personality does go down well on TV, but not so well that he can survive the unbelievable screwups that he has created. The question is, will the democratic party blow it or not?

I apologize if this is old news. This is a memo written by two Republican pollsters: