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A Question of Trust

Can Bush be trusted? DR doesn't think so. You probably don't either. But, much more importantly, that's what American voters, especially swing voters, are starting to think. If that sense of trust continues to deteriorate, Bush will be, as his father might put it, in "deep doo-doo", since he will have little to fall back on in explaining his increasingly unpopular policies.

Here are some illustrative findings from the latest Time/CNN poll. In this poll, just 44 percent say Bush is "a leader you can trust", compared to 55 percent say they have "some doubts and reservations". Critically, this gap widens to a yawning 23 points among political independents: only 38 percent trust him, while 61 percent have doubts and reservations.

The poll also asks about a series of issues and whether respondents do or do not "in general" believe what Bush says about these issues. With the exception of "the war on terrorism" (31 percent don't believe/66 percent believe), the public is now serious split about Bush's credibility in key areas: the state of the economy (44 percent don't believe/49 percent believe); the federal budget deficit (43 percent/48 percent); Iraq's WMD programs (note usage picked up from White House!) prior to the war (47/47); and the cost of rebuilding Iraq (45/46).

Independents in every case are even more skeptical of Bush. And on Iraq's WMD "programs" and the cost of rebuilding Iraq, they don't believe him by fairly wide margins (53-41 and 52-36, respectively).

In addition, the poll asks respondents to evaluate both Bush and John Kerry on a wide range of personal characteristics. It is striking that Bush--a president said to have benefitted greatly from a strong personal bond with the American people--does little better than Kerry on many of these characteristics and frequently worse. Of course, Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee, will come under increased scrutiny as the campaign unfolds, but he starts with a better image, and Bush with a worse one, than many would have thought possible just two months when Saddam’s capture was dominating the news.

For example, by only an 11 point margin (53 percent to 42 percent), the public say "honest and trustworthy" applies to Bush. But they say the same thing about Kerry by 36 points (56 percent to 20 percent).

Or here's an interesting one: 39 percent say "did his duty for the country during the Vietnam war" applies to Bush, compared to 40 percent who say it doesn't , with independents having an even more negative 34/43 split on this question. Kerry, on the other hand, gets an overwhelmingly positive evaluation, 60 percent to 15 percent.

Kerry also does well on "cares about the average American", which 64 percent of the public thinks applies to him, compared to 20 percent who don't, a 44 point margin. Bush only gets a narrow 8 point margin on the same question (53 percent/45 percent) and independents are actually negative by 4 points on whether this characteristic applies to Bush (46/50).

Americans are also convinced that Bush is "too tied to special interests": by 17 points, (55 percent to 38 percent) they say that description applies to Bush and independents endorse that judgement by 24 points (58 percent to 34 percent). Kerry, however, has more saying that description doesn't apply to him (42 percent) than say it does (31 percent).

Almost half the public (47 percent) now says "too extreme in his political views" applies to Bush, while 48 percent say that doesn't (independents are slightly more negative at 48 percent applies/46 percent doesn't apply). But only 29 percent say too extreme applies to Kerry, compared to 52 percent who say it doesn't.

Bush, of course, continues to have some areas of advantage over Kerry--being "a strong and decisive leader" and "can handle the war on terrorism"--but it is interesting to note that one of them is not being "likeable". By 68 percent to 28 percent, the public says that characteristic applies to Bush. But by 69 percent to 18 percent the public also says that characteristic applies to Kerry.

So, the public doesn't trust Bush much anymore and doesn't have the warm personal regard for him they once did. That means he'll increasingly have to sell his policies to the American public on their merits.

Judging from his recent efforts to do so, this is likely to be, shall we say, challenging. Very challenging.

Comments

Not to beat a dead horse, but the latest polls won't mean much if we ignore the threat posed by electronic votings machines (DRE).

While, as some may have noticed in earlier posts, I am by nature a pessimist, the danger of DRE machines is very real to our democracy. According to a recent Salon article, such voting machines are installed in over 20% of counties nationwide. That may not seem like much, but let's assume such machines would give Bush 80% of the vote (100% might stand out). That means the Democractic candidate would have to win about 59% of the remaining vote. And I don't think anyone can expect that to happen.

If you think this is all conspiracy talk and doomesday scenarios, check out the following links:

http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/1013-01.htm

http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=16474

http://www.americanprogress.org/site/pp.asp?c=biJRJ8OVF&b=14221

Kerry benefits in these polls from voters knowing nearly nothing about him. After Rove and the press begin Gore-ing him, his "honest and trustworty" and "too tied to special interests" numbers are going to fall through the floor. That doesn't mean Bush's will go up, but it means that it won't be that great of a strength for us.

I nearly fell in the floor when I read how many people don't think Kerry is captive of special interests. Yeah...THAT'LL keep 'til November.

That these poll numbers are so high in such a chaotic time is a sign of Bush's strength, not his weakness. The poll also mentions gay marriage, and how many people (54%) don't know Kerry's views on that subject. When they do, watch his support collapse.

We have a long, grueling road ahead of us. I pray we win.

There are two things that could rapidly repair Bush's credibility: discovery of WMD or capture of UBL.

As to the first, I'd bet it won't happen, call it a probability of 15%. But the longer he twists in the wind on this, the bigger the rebound will be.

As to the second, who knows. For all we know, they've got a bead on him already and are just timing the capture for September.

The present news is encouraging, insofar as people are catching on to the Administration's tricks -- cooking the books and skewing the intelligence -- and there figures to be a continuing stream of similar stories for the next several months.

Let's hope there's no fall surprise.

The October Surprise I'm worried about is the news that Kerry's been impregnating the help or skinnydipping with a staffer. he's exactly that kind of "I'm to cool for the rules" kind of guy. they what will his trust ratings look like?

Its all going to be a matter of money folks. Once the $170 million dollar gorilla flexes its arms, watch out. So, the only chance is to fight fire with fire. Raise hell and raise money so that the RNC media machine doesn't roll over these seemingly hopeful polls.

I'm not sure that capturing Osama will make Bush bullet-proof the way a lot of people seem to think. My question would be "What took you so long?"

In any case, the Dems have to be prepared for the possiblity and should not harp on Osama, but make clear that Bush's policies have diverted attention and resources from the wider efforts needed to suppress terrorism.

Well, believing Kerry will win at least one and possibly both states today, I voted for Edwards, for a number of reasons. It was between Edwards and Kerry for me and even as of last night I wasn't sure which it would be. Kerry doesn't need my vote now. I'll be pleased to support him in every way I know how if he is the nominee.

If it were a close race going into today I'd be analyzing who was voting for whom and why and it would be a different process I'd be running through.

Edwards hasn't spent enough money (why, I have wondered, hasn't he loaned his campaign money from the fortune he's accumulated from all the jury verdicts he's won against negligent or reckless corporations? There would be a certain poetic justice in that) and doesn't have enough exposure yet to run nationally so we could see how broad or not his appeal is at this point in his career.

But I continue to believe it would benefit our side if he can hang in awhile yet and get a lengthier hearing. The prospect of Edwards rather than Kerry making the argument before the American jury in November has much to recommend it in my view.

Ruy or others, do you have any polling data on Kerry vs. Edwards on the "confidence as Commander in Chief" issue?

Kerry is the fatter target by far, although that has not become so apparent yet. The poster who a few days ago assailed me and other Edwards sympathizers on the grounds that support for a candidate so lean on national security credentials while we are at war speaks unfavorably about our intelligence raised, of course, one of the toughest questions about Edwards' candidacy.

I have gut level confidence that he's well up to it. But I concede I have not seen data that bears on the question of voter perceptions on this and how malleable or not they are.

The data showing Kerry to be the overwhelming choice of those focused on electability reflects, I suspect, some combination of Kerry's greater experience in public office, his more seasoned physical appearance, and his military record. I haven't seen data that tries to break it down to ask people specifically which of these or other considerations carries greater and lesser weight with them.

FWIW count me among the supporters of other candidates who has a high regard for Howard Dean. When he was the clear frontrunner six weeks ago and ABD folks were taking shots at him I pleaded with them to keep it civil and above board and recognize and respect his great strengths regardless of who they decided to support in the end. I believed then as I believe now that the energy of Dean supporters was going to be an enormous asset regardless of whether Dean or someone else was the nominee. To my way of thinking it would be a great shame if they check out.

In response to wvmcl, why not raise the bar a bit, and not only prepare for the 'October Surprise' but begin actively promoting it? Have the Dems begin regularly and vocally announcing how much we look forward to the U.S. military forces catching OBL. Have Dem senators introduce legislation to spend billions on 'get OBL' special op teams, have Dems repeat in speeches how we expect to find OBL this year, have Kerry mention again and again how the U.S. forces are doing a bang-up job in the search for OBL, and so on.

Basically, greatly increase the expectations.

Bush has made a political career out of setting low expectations for himself and then everyone pats him on the back when he meets them. Why not raise the bar and increase the expectations -- the conventional wisdom becomes "we *will* find OBL in 2004." If we do find him, Dems get to celebrate and claim we predicted it all along. If we don't find him, the Bush administration has fallen short on something everything hoped would happen, and can't choose to ignore their failure because it's been emphasized all year long.

I don't know, just a thought.

We need to go one step further than THAT and actually use whatever clout we have to pressure our government into getting UBL before the election. Not because its better or worse for this side or that politically, but because, well, he murdered thousands of Americans.

A few liberals really seem to rooting against America because they want a positive issue terrain for Democrats. That attitidue makes even the corrupt crony's of the Bush administration look good by comparison. I am not saying that this describes anyone posting here, but... A few posts are nudging in that direction, dig?

If I were Kerry or Edwards, I would find an example or three of that particular strand of liberalism and denounce it loundly and clearly so that everyone understands that the Democrats want America to succeed, even if its in October.

Jon,
We all want what's best for America. Capturing/killing OBL would be good for America. However, it is probably less good for America than another 4 years of GOP domination is bad. :)

My point isn't so much that any reasonable person does not want to get Osama. I know that we all do. I also know that we all are disturbed by the way that Bush uses 911 as a political club.

But think for a second how a President Gore would have been treated if he had failed to get UBL after all this time. The Fox ticker would be demanding justice 24 hours a day. I am not saying we should be as bad as they are, but there is nothing wrong with a little bit of heartfelt frustration over the fact that we have not gotten him yet. The guy did murder thousands of us, no?

Thats why, if I were Kerry, I would make sure that if anyone warned of an 'October Surprise' in my presence, I would point out --forcefully --that catching Bin Ladin will be good news for all Americans whenever it happens because it will make our country safer and that there is no political upside worth having to his continued freedom.