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Putting the Bush Bump in Perspective

(Sigh) How quickly they forget. You’d think the press could at least remember–oh, say back to last April–when they assess the meaning and probable durability of Bush’s latest bump in the poll ratings. They seem to have difficulty with that, since they’re falling all over themselves talking about how much this political boost will help Bush get re-elected. But, as DR said on Monday, “it seems unlikely that the bump he gets will be particularly large or particularly long-lived....The three big problems with Iraq have been–and will continue to be–casualties, financial costs and WMD (the abundance of the first two and the lack of the third).....Therefore, unless Saddam’s capture really does break the back of the Iraqi resistance....his capture, by itself, is unlikely to produce....a significant boost in Bush’s chances for re-election, eleven long months from now.”

DR can keep calm and say stuff like that because he does remember all the way back to April (and even earlier!) and, hence, is a heck of a lot harder to spook than your average member of the press corps. In fact, let’s all put today’s polls in perspective by taking a stroll down memory lane, with the aid of just-released CBS News/New York Times poll data. These data include a poll taken right before and a poll take right after Saddam’s capture, so we get a good picture of the current bump, plus trend data on some key indicators that go back to the previous bump, in March-April of this year.

Start with Bush’s approval rating. The CBS News poll has his rating rising from 52 percent right before, to 58 percent right after, Saddam’s capture. So: a 6 point bump, a little more than the 4 points in the first post-capture poll released (ABC News), but still modest as approval spikes go. (Note that other recently-released polls–NBC News, Gallup, Pew Research Center–are all in the 6-7 point range, so this appears to be the best estimate of the bump’s magnitude). That’s less than half the size of the approval spike in April from the Iraq invasion and victorious entry into Baghdad. That spike was half gone in a few weeks and completely dissipated (and then some) by July.

This poll also shows Bush getting about the same size approval bump on his handling of foreign policy; in March-April (combining this poll and the NBC News poll), he appears to have gotten a bump more than twice as large, most of which was gone by July.

Bush gets his biggest bump, not surprisingly, on indicators directly related to Iraq. According to the CBS News poll, Bush’s approval rating on Iraq has spiked 14 points to 59 percent. But his rating on Iraq spiked exactly twice as much (28 points) during the Iraq invasion and takeover of Baghdad; three-quarters of this gain was gone by early July.

It’s also true that politically important poll indicators have improved which are only tangentially related, or not at all, to the Iraq situation. That’s supposed to show just how much Bush’s position has been strengthened. For example, the CBS News poll has the classic right direction/wrong track question (on where the country is going) flipping from net negative (higher wrong track than right direction) before the capture to net positive (higher right direction than wrong track) afterwards. But the exact same thing happened in March-April of this year, except that the change was twice as big. And this measure was back in net negative territory by July.

Similarly, the poll has Bush’s approval rating on the economy flipping from net negative to net positive after the capture. But, again, the same thing happened last March, only with twice as a big shift. And here Bush was back in net negative territory by late April.

Clearly, a public that was thrilled by the capture of Baghdad could not maintain its enthusiasm for the Iraq adventure and for the president who sent the soldiers there, in the face of a grueling, violent occupation. We should not expect the pattern produced by the capture of Saddam to be any different. Bush’s improved ratings are likely to disappear rapidly, just as they did before (perhaps faster since the gains are smaller), unless there is a fairly dramatic turnaround in the situation on the ground in Iraq.

Comments

At least four or five neighbors/coworkers of mine said to me after Saddam was captured:

"Well, that's it. Bush will win in a landslide."

Nonsense, but with Faux news and the SCLM Shilling for Shrubbie, I can understand why people would believe this.

Now if Osama is caught---that would change the dynamic completely. I notice another audiotape has been released, he continues to taunt Bush. And Americans need to remember that the bastard whu killed 3,000 Americans is still at large almost two and one-half years after 9-11.

The Newsweek poll that was just released gives Bush only a 3 percent approval boost in the last week.

That CBS poll is also revealing in that it shows that 78% of voters agree with Howard Dean's assessment that America is NOT safer after the capture of Saddam.

People who say, at this stage of the game, that "Bush will win in a landslide" are whistling in the dark. Polls are only useful when tracked over time, with the same questions. I don't usually pay much attention to the classic "How is the country doing" question; it's much too broad for a yes/no type answer.

The good thing is, even with much of the national media on their kneepads for BushCo, the trends show that the American people are starting to "get it." Many of them remember Whitewater, Fostergate, and all the other faux scandals of the Clinton administration, heavily plugged by the media.