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April 29, 2004

Yes, Bad News Does Hurt Bush

We can now safely disregard the theory that bad news somehow doesn't hurt Bush politically. He may be able to delay or slightly mitigate that harm but, as common sense would suggest, he cannot escape it.

Consider the results of the just-released CBS News/New York Times poll, conducted April 23-27. Bush's approval rating is down to 46 percent approve/47 percent disapprove (40/47 among independents), the lowest of his presidency and the first net negative rating in this poll. Bush's approval rating on foreign policy is now 40/51 (36/52 among independents), also the lowest of his presidency, as is his rating on Iraq at 41/52 (independents: 37/53). And his rating on the economy remains below 40 at 39/54 (36/57 among independents).

Those are some mighty bad numbers. Only his rating on "handling the campaign against terrorism" remains fairly strong at 60/34, but even here that is is the second lowest of his presidency.

As for right direction/wrong track, his performance is even more dismal in this poll than in the Democracy Corps poll discussed yesterday. Only 36 percent say the country is going in the right direction, compared to 55 percent who say it's gotten seriously off on the wrong track (and that's 30/59--almost 2:1 wrong track!--among independents).

The poll also indicates that Kerry now has a small 2 point lead among RVs in the head-to-head horse race (46-44). So much for Bush's mid-April mini-surge. And Kerry's ahead by 4 points among independents.

Speaking of the direction things are going, I didn't get a chance to cite these results from the DCorps poll yesterday, but they're worth considering. DCorps asked about a wide range of issues and whether the country should continue in Bush's direction or go in a significantly different direction. Except for the war on terrorism, where voters favor the Bush direction, voters favor a significantly different direction than Bush's in every area: the federal budget; health care; jobs; prescription drug coverage for seniors; the economy; middle class living standards; taxes; foreign policy; Iraq; and education. Apparently there are a lot of time-for-a-change voters out there.

But the worst news for Bush is the extent to which public support for the Iraq war is declining. How about the key question of whether the war a mistake or not, an indicator I've discussed several times lately? In the CBS News poll, the public says yes, 48-46 (49-44 among independents). Last April, sentiment was overwhelming (70-24) that the war was not a mistake.

On a closely-related question, whether the US "did the right thing" in taking military action against Iraq or should have stayed out, the public is now almost evenly-split (47 right thing/46 stayed out; independents are 44/47). Just four months ago, it was 64 right thing/28 stayed out.

On whether the result of the war was worth the loss of life and other costs, the public now believes, by 25 points, that the result wasn't worth the cost (58-33; 61-31 among independents). And on whether Iraq was a threat that required immediate military action, we are now down to only one-third who believe that immediate action was necessary, compared to about two-thirds who believe the Iraq threat either could have been contained or was not a threat at all. No wonder people now believe, by 61-34, that the Bush administration was too quick to get American military forces involved, rather than that the administration tried hard enough to reach a diplomatic solution.

Next they'll be saying the Bush administration didn't make the decision to invade Iraq when they said they did--in March, 2003--but rather before that. In fact, that's exactly what they say, by 68-23, even when explicitly informed that the Bush administration claims they made that decision in March. In other words, the public overwhelmingly believes they're lying about that.

Ah, but the public doesn't really care, right, because they are convinced the Bush administration has made them safer. Not really. Less than half (49 percent) now believe Bush administration policies have made then safer from terrorism, compared to 46 percent who believe either these policies have made them less safe (25 percent) or had no effect (21 percent). Among independents, it's actually a majority sentiment (51-44) that Bush administration policies have not made the US safer from terrorism. And note this: in mid-January of this year, the public believed overwhelmingly, by 68-29, that Bush administration policies were making them safer. There's something going on here and it's all bad for Bush and his re-election bid.

And if people are now unsure whether Bush administration policies overall have actually made them safer from terrorism, they are very clear that the war in Iraq has not had that effect. By 4:1 (80/18), the public believes the Iraq war has either increased the threat of terrorism or kept it about the same, rather than decreased that threat.

What does the public want to do now about Iraq? They're not quite sure. While four months ago they believed by 21 points (56-35) that the US should stay in Iraq as long as necessary to establish a stable democracy, rather than leave as soon as possible, now they are split right down the middle on this (46-46).

Iraq may not be "another Vietnam", in substantive terms. But sentiment about Iraq is starting to look more and more like sentiment about Vietnam. And if you're running for re-election, that ain't good.

April 28, 2004

Which Issues Help Bush?

Gallup put out an interesting analysis today of which issues help Bush and which issues help Kerry. Gallup asked respondents which of three issues--economic conditions, terrorism and the situation in Iraq--would be most important to their vote for president. Among likely voters, 39 percent selected economic conditions, 28 percent picked terrorism and 22 percent selected Iraq.

Among economic conditions likely voters (Gallup provides no relevant RV data), Kerry led over Bush 67-31 in their trial heat question. And among those who selected Iraq, Kerry also led, though by a smaller 59-40 margin. Only among terrorism voters did Bush lead, though by an overwhelming 83-14 margin.

Which leads me to speculate that perhaps Bush' s recent press conference gave a short-term boost to the salience of terrorism (still clearly his strongest issue), thereby explaining his recent (small) gains in trial heat questions. And it also suggests that--contrary to the idea that Bush is somehow not getting hurt by the deteriorating situation in Iraq (see my April 25 discussion)--the more the public focuses on Iraq, the worse it's likely to be for him politically.

And perhaps he's already starting to fall off a bit from that mid-April bump. The latest Democracy Corps poll of likely voters (they report no RV results) has Bush ahead of Kerry by only a single point (49-48). The poll also shows Bush's approval rating down 2 points since late March (to 50 percent) and right direction/wrong track at 40/54, down from 42/50 last month.

In addition, DCorps asks the following question, which gets directly at the issue of whether this will be a time-for-a-change election: "Now let me ask overall, do you think the country should continue in the direction Bush is headed or go in a significantly different direction?" The response: 45 percent Bush's direction/53 percent different direction. And that's also down--it was 46/50 last month.

More on this interesting new poll tomorrow.

April 27, 2004

Kerry Still Ahead in Battleground States

I pointed out on April 22 that Kerry appeared to be ahead where it really counts--in the battleground states--despite Bush's small national lead. Here's confirmation of this pattern from a just-released Marist college poll: while Bush is ahead of Kerry by 3 points nationally among RVs (47-44), Kerry is head of Bush by the same exact margin (47-44) in the battleground states.

In addition, the poll asks the following slight variant on the traditional right direction/wrong track question: "In general, thinking about the way things are going in the country, do you feel things are going in the right direction or that things are going in the wrong direction?" The public as a whole gives a 46 right direction/50 wrong direction response. But in the battleground states the public gives a substantially more negative 40/55 response.

Another interesting finding from the poll is that Bush gets a relatively weak job rating of just 55 percent on handling the war on terrorism. And in a just-released Pew poll, Bush gets an identical 55 percent job rating on handling terrorist threats. I continue to believe that these declining job ratings in Bush's strongest area are of great political significance and provide Kerry with the opening he needs to make his case on national security issues.

Of course, he's still got to make it, starting with the mess in Iraq. Right now, according to the Pew poll, only 36 percent believe Bush has a clear plan for bringing the situation in Iraq to a successful conclusion, compared to 54 percent who think he doesn't. That's Kerry's cue to step up with just such a plan. I agree with what Josh Marshall had to say in his recent New York Times op-ed:

....running a campaign that focuses the voters' gaze solely on the president's manifest failures will probably run into resistance, especially with the voters he most needs to win over, those from the ambivalent middle. Mr. Kerry is far more likely to win if he has a plan to show how he — and thus the American people — can succeed rather than simply showing how President Bush — and thus they — have failed.

And it's going to call for more than a "secret plan to end the war", as Nixon was able to get away with. Sure hope they're working on this one down at Kerry campaign HQ.

April 26, 2004

The Public and Abortion Rights

Yesterday, perhaps one million people marched in Washington to defend abortion rights. The headline about the demonstration in The New York Times was "Abortion-Rights Marchers Vow to Fight Another Bush Term".

Is that really likely to hurt Bush? Or has a backlash developed against abortion rights as abortion rights opponents successfully agitate for incremental restrictions on those rights?

The latter was the flavor of a Sunday article in The New York Times, "Abortion's Opponents Claim the Middle Ground". And it is true that abortion rights opponents have been concentrating on chipping away at these rights with various restrictions like parental notification and banning so-called partial birth abortions. But it's also true that they've adopted that strategy because they have to. What those groups really want to do is ban abortions--in other words, get rid of Roe v. Wade. But they've realized they can't do that. Hence the chipping away approach.

And the reason they've realized they can't do that--get rid of abortion rights entirely--is very simple. The public doesn't want it.

A recent report by Gallup provides some illustrative data. A plurality of the country (48-45) considers itself pro-choice, rather than pro-life. That includes a 54-39 majority among 18-29 year old women. In addition. 60 percent of the public either believes abortion laws should remain as they are (40 percent) or be made less strict (20 percent). And while just 17 percent want to make abortion illegal in all circumstances, 50 percent believe Bush holds that view.

In earlier Gallup results, Americans view Roe v. Wade as a good, rather than bad, thing for the country by a 23 point margin (53 percent to 30 percent). Gallup data also show that the public believes abortion should generally be legal during the first three months of pregnancy -- the subject of the Roe v. Wade decision -- by a wide margin (66 percent to 29 percent). Only 17 percent are for banning abortion, as mentioned above, while 26 percent believe abortion should be legal under any circumstances. The rest believe abortion should be legal under most circumstances (14 percent) or only in a few circumstances (40 percent).

An NBC poll gauged support for abortion rights in a different manner and found 59 percent saying that the choice on abortion should be left up to the woman and her doctor and 29 percent saying abortion should only be legal in cases of rape, incest or risk to the mother's life. Just 9 percent said it should be illegal in all circumstances.

ABC and Time/CNN polls asked directly about support for the Roe v. Wade decision and found 54 percent to 44 percent and 55 percent to 40 percent support, respectively. In addition, the NBC poll asked whether the Supreme Court should reverse Roe v. Wade and found strong opposition to this course (58 percent opposed to 35 percent in favor).

Polls generally find that support for abortion rights, however measured, has remained very steady since 1995. Looking before 1995, some polls suggest that today's levels of pro-choice sentiment are somewhat less those in the 1990-95 time period. But other polls tell a different story. The ABC poll, for example, finds direct support for Roe v. Wade to be less now than in 1993, when it was measured at 65 percent to 33 percent. On the other hand, the NBC poll finds a slight increase in opposition to reversing Roe v. Wade over about the same period. They asked the same question in 1992 (though among registered voters) and found 56 percent opposed to reversal and 38 percent in favor.

The Gallup poll question above on circumstances when abortion should be legal (all, most, a few or none at all) also finds evidence of some diminution in support for abortion rights since a peak in the 1990-95 time period. But the NBC question on whether abortion should be left up to the women and her doctor shows very little change over the same period.

Regardless, however, of how much change there's been since the early 1990s, all of these polls agree there has been very little change since the mid-1990s. They tell us we remain a country that is generally pleased with the legacy of Roe v. Wade and does not wish to reverse it. And it suggests Bush really had better watch his step where abortion rights are concerned.

April 25, 2004

Is Bush's "Oratory" Keeping the American Public from Turning against the War?

That's the contention of today's front page story by Dana Milbank in The Washington Post. There's only one slight problem with this: the American public, by any reasonable standard is turning against the war. Now you could reasonably say that support for the war effort has not completely collapsed, despite the recent string of bad news. Or that Bush's rhetoric is helping slow the rate of decline. Or that his "oratory" helped contribute to the recent rally effect that may have elevated Bush in the polls by a few points. But you can't say the public isn't turning against the war, because they are.

Here are some recent data from the Post's own poll, which Milbank rather selectively cites in his piece. That poll has close to an even split (51-47) on whether the war with Iraq was worth fighting. The poll also shows a close split on a related question: whether the US did the right thing in going to war with Iraq or whether it was a mistake (52-46). Last April, this same question was 81-16.

Let's dwell on that last datum a bit. In the last year, the public has gone from a 65 point margin in favor of the Iraq war being the right thing to do, not a mistake, to a mere 6 point margin. And, as I mentioned on Friday, one poll question is already returning a plurality in favor of the war being a mistake (and that was down from a lopsidedly positive reply--67 percent right decision/29 percent mistake--four months before).

If that's not turning against the war, I don't know what is. With the war in Vietnam, it took about two years to get to the point where we are already in terms of thinking the war was a mistake. So, not only is the public turning against the war, it's turning against it fast, by recent standards.

And here are some more data from the Post's own poll, none of which make it into Milbank's article.

People feel, by 51-34, that the middle east is less stable, rather than more stable, as a result of the war. They think, by 57-37, that the US will not be able to establish a stable democracy in Iraq. They also believe, by 35-29, that the war in Iraq has left the US in a weaker not stronger, position in the world (last April, the public thought the war will make us stronger, by 52-12). And about two-thirds (65 percent) now say that, given the goals vs. costs of the war, the number of casualties we are sustaining is unacceptable.

Oh, but this isn't "turning against the war", I suppose. Perhaps it merely qualifies as "raising a quizzical eyebrow".

Of course, it's not just the Post's own poll:

In the most recent CBS News poll, only 36 percent believe the war has made the US safer from terrorism; only 34 percent believe the Iraq war is a major part of the war against terrorism; and just 15 percent believe the Bush administration has clearly explained how long US troops will be in Iraq.

In the most recent Pew poll, the public is now close to evenly split on whether to keep troops in Iraq until a stable government is etablished (50 percent) or simply bring troops home as soon as possible (44 percent). That's down from strong 63-32 support for keeping troops there in January.

And, as I mentioned in my post on Friday, the latest Ipsos poll finds that the public believes by about 2:1 that the military action in Iraq has increased the threat of terrorism in the world, rather than decreased it ("increased" and "decreased" were tied only four months ago). That poll also found that, by 17 points, the public believes the Iraq war will increase, not decrease, the amount of terrorism at home in the US. (Note that the latest Annenberg election survey had that sentiment even stronger--2:1 in favor of the Iraq war increasing the amount of terrorism in the US).

Ah, but the public isn't turning against the war. Right.

The article's evidence, such as it is, for this absurd contention seems to revolve around the alleged fact that Bush's oratory has convinced the American public of three points:

1. That the US will prevail in Iraq. But according to the Post's own poll, the public thinks the US has gotten "bogged down" in Iraq (59 percent), rather than that the US is making good progress (41 percent). And note the view cited above on how the US will not be able to establish a stable democracy in Iraq.

2. That the fighting in Iraq is related to war against Al Qaeda. Sure people think the war in Iraq is related to the war against Al Qaeda--but negatively so! As the data above clearly show, the public believes the war in Iraq is increasing the threat of terrorism and the danger that a group like Al Qaeda will hit the US homeland again. Note also that few Americans think the war in Iraq is major part of the war against terrorism and that most Americans think fighting Al Qaeda not the war in Iraq should the focus of our efforts to fight terrorism.

3. That most Iraqis and many foreign countries support US actions in Iraq. But the latest Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) poll (which Milbank cites at another point in the article for different purposes) finds the public saying, by 51-47, that the majority of the Iraqis want us to leave, not stay. That's a big change from November when the same question returned a 39 percent leave/58 percent stay response.

Beyond these "facts", the article cites PIPA findings that indicate many members of the public continue to harbor apparent misconceptions about the ties between Al Qaeda and Saddam and about the existence of WMD and WMD programs in Iraq prior to the war. True enough. But these misconceptions, while still at disturbing levels, are nevertheless substantially lower in most cases than they were prior to the war. And the continued harboring of misconceptions is not evidence the public is not turning against the war; it merely means they have misconceptions. When the public was turning against the Vietnam war in 1967-68, many of those who were starting to think the war was a mistake still harbored lots of mistaken, if not bizarre, ideas about the origins of the Vietnam conflict, who controlled Ho Chi Minh, etc. But their misconceptions, in the end, did not prevent them from opposing the Vietnam war and punishing those politicians whom they felt had led them astray. I suspect the same phenomenon will play itself out with the Iraq war.

As added evidence for this view, the PIPA poll already shows that the way Bush has dealt with the Iraq situation, on net, cuts against him electorally. According to the poll, 41 percent say Bush's actions in Iraq will decrease the likelihood that they will vote for him, compared to 34 percent who say his Iraq actions will increase their likelihood of supporting him. That compares to 30/35 last September, when it appeared his Iraq policy was a net benefit to him.

But times have changed. Time for the Post to catch up.

April 23, 2004

Iraq and Terrorism

I've been arguing lately that, while the horse race may have been dancing around a bit, the most politically salient change has been the huge doubts that have been raised about Bush's approach to Iraq in particular and to the war on terror in general. Here are some findings from Ipsos-AP that suggest just how serious this damage has been.

First, consider the question of whether the Iraq war was a mistake. You know when more people than not starting thinking a war was a mistake (remember Vietnam!), the incumbent administration is in real trouble. And Ipsos now has the first example of this. They asked the question: "All in all, thinking about how things have gone in Iraq since the United States went to war there in March 2003, do you think the Bush administration made the right decision in going to war in Iraq or made a mistake in going to war in Iraq?" The response: 49 percent mistake/48 percent right decision. When Ipsos asked the same question four months ago, however, they got a lopsidedly positive reply: 67 percent right decision/29 percent mistake. Quite a change.

Note that this question specifically mentions "the Bush administration"; they also asked the same question with "United States" substituted for Bush administration. That question returns a more positive reply: 57 percent right decision/40 percent mistake. Interesting how the specific mention of the Bush administration apparently moves people toward the "mistake" judgement.

Now consider whether the war with Iraq has increased or decreased the threat of terrorism. That one's been headed south for a while, but these are most negative findings I've seen yet. First, the poll finds that 47 percent say the military action in Iraq has increased the threat of terrorism in the world, compared to just 25 percent who say it's decreased that threat--almost 2:1 (25 percent say there's been no effect). Four months ago, the increased terrorism and decreased terrorism camps were exactly equal in size (38/38).

But here's the real mind-blower. Given a straight-up choice between whether "in the long term.....there will be more or less terrorism in the United States because the U.S. went to war in Iraq?", the public believes, by 54 percent to 37 percent, that the war will produce more, not less, terrrorism in our country.

In other words, not only has the war in Iraq become a big mess which gets more US soldiers killed every day, but we're actually less safe at home now because of it. No wonder more and more of the public thinks the war was a mistake. And I wouldn't be suprised if that thought has crossed Karl Rove's mind as well.

April 22, 2004

So, What's Really Happening in the Battleground States?

The recent Gallup and ABC News/Washington Post polls have gotten a lot of Democrats worried about how well Bush is apparently doing. I've argued in the last couple of days that these worries are considerably exaggerated and that developments in the last six weeks fundamentally weaken Bush, whether or not some polls show him ahead in the horse race.

Still, I know many are worried that Bush's ads in the battleground states have worked and that, to be doing so well in general, he must be making serious progress in those contested states.

To which I say: wrong! The Annenberg election survey results I reviewed earlier showed that Kerry's favorabilty rating remained unchanged in the battleground states and that persuadable voters were uninclined to drink the Republican Kool-Aid about Kerry flip-flopping, believing Bush, more than Kerry, exhibited that behavior.

And now check out these just-released findings from the same ABC News poll that contributed to Democrats' anguish about Bush being ahead. According to data in The Hotline (I can't find any link yet on a public website, but I'm sure one will eventually appear), Kerry is ahead of Bush by 4 points in the battleground states (50-46). He's even ahead of Bush by 2 points in these states with Nader thrown into the mix and drawing a ridiculous 7 percent.

Note also that Bush's approval rating in the battleground states is 49 percent, 2 points under his national rating and that his approval rating on the economy in these states is just 41 percent, 3 points under his national rating.

Interestingly, if you look closely at recent Gallup poll results, there are also signs of poor recent Bush performance in battleground states (or, as they call them "purple states"). Their latest poll had Bush ahead overall among likely voters by 5 points. But he is only tied with Kerry in the purple states. Moreover, that represents a 6 point decline for Bush in the purple states compared to Gallup's March 26-28 survey.

One must be cautious about these data, of course, because of sample size and other problems (though note that the ABC News battleground states sample is probably 300 or so, which is a pretty decent size). But they do lead me to a hypothesis about Bush's recent improved performance in trial heat questions. Instead of getting more votes where he needs them--in the battleground states--his posturing is mostly driving up his support in the hardcore red states, where he doesn't need them. If that's true, Democrats should definitely not be intimidated by recent poll results. Bush is preaching to the converted--which can make him look better in a national poll--but he's not winning many new converts where it counts.

April 21, 2004

More on Yesterday's Polls

Several people have noted in the comments section for yesterday's post that Bush has been benefiting from a continued focus on his strong suit, even if that suit is weakening. I agree. My fixation yesterday was on explaining the very recent bump up in his horse race performance, which I do think is consistent with a rally effect tied to the press conference. But the two points are not inconsistent: the focus on his strong suit set the stage for the rally effect.

And the key implicaton of the two points is the same: as the mix of issues in play becomes more evenly-balanced, the reduction in Bush's huge advantage in the national security/foreign policy area fundametally weakens his political position, He can't assume, as was formely the case, that his national security advantage will drown out everything else no matter what the mix of issues. He's no longer strong enough in that area for that to be a reasonable assumption.

The DLC had a good article today on their website that goes over the recent polls and provides some similar, and very crisply expressed, analysis. I particularly like their summation of what Kerry needs to do moving forward:

Kerry's challenge is to define himself, his values and philosophy, his agenda and policies, as quickly and as clearly as possible. He must not only take advantage of Bush's vulnerabilities, but keep the GOP from making doubts about the Democratic Party and its candidate the focal point of the campaign, rather than the incumbent's poor record, broken promises, and empty future agenda. Most crucially, Kerry must undermine the bedrock premise of the president's case for re-election: that George W. Bush is the embodiment of the war on terror, and the indispensable man for keeping America safe. Kerry's ability and willingness to do just that are his best potential weapons as the campaign unfolds.

Sounds like a plan.

April 20, 2004

A Bush Bump?

Two polls released today--Gallup and ABC News/Washington Post--give small leads to Bush over Kerry in presidential trial heat questions. The Gallup poll (using RVs and the Kerry-Bush not Kerry-Bush-Nader trial heat) shows Bush with a 4 point lead (50-46), while the ABC News poll gives Bush a 1 point lead (49-48). (Note that this latter result is not from a standard Kerry-Bush trial heat question, which ABC News chose not to ask, but rather from combining a Kerry-Bush-Nader trial heat question with a followup to Nader supporters/undecideds on who they would support if Nader doesn't run or isn't on the ballot. Guess they just wanted to be different.)

So: two polls, two RV leads, one taken April 16-18 (Gallup), the other taken April 15-18 (ABC News).

Here are other RV Kerry-Bush results for April:

Newsweek, April 8-9....................Kerry, 50-43
ARG, April 6-9.............................Kerry, 50-44
Gallup, April 5-8..........................Kerry, 48-45
Fox, April 6-7..............................Kerry, 44-43
CBS News, March 30-April 1.........Kerry, 48-43

Note that each of these polls has Kerry ahead. And note that there were no relevant polls conducted in the period from April 10 to April 15, the start date of the new ABC News poll. But that poll and the new Gallup poll do indicate that Bush has edged ahead, so a plausible theory is that Bush received some sort of a bump up in that period.

What might that have been? Given the timing, Bush's advertisements do not seem like the logical candidate for such a bump. A more plausible possibility is his televised speech/press conference on April 13, where he presented no clear plans on how to deal with the problems in Iraq, but did urge Americans to stay the course, be tough and so on. I thought at the time it was possible he would get some sort of small, short-lived rally effect from these posturings and that may have come to pass. Such an effect was likely aided and abetted by the very low profile of the Kerry campaign which provided Bush with a relatively clear field to push the electorate in his direction.

I also thought that "the really significant political development in the recent period is the undercutting of support for Bush's war in Iraq and for his handling of the war on terror", not the ups and downs of the horse race, and I continue to think that.

Indeed, there are plenty of findings in these new polls that indicate Bush's troubles in these areas are here to stay. The Gallup poll shows the public about split (52-46) about whether it was or was not worth going to war in Iraq. And the ABC News poll has a similar split (51-47) on whether the war with Iraq was worth fighting. That poll also shows a close split on a related question: whether the US did the right thing in going to war with Iraq or whether it was a mistake (52-46). Last April, this same question was 81-16.

People also feel, by 51-34, that the middle east is less stable, rather than more stable, as a result of the war. They think, by 57-37, that the US will not be able to establish a stable democracy in Iraq. They also believe, by 35-29, that the war in Iraq has left the US in a weaker not stronger, position in the world (last April, the public thought the war will make us stronger, by 52-12). And about two-thirds (65 percent) now say that, given the goals vs. costs of the war, the number of casualties we are sustaining is unacceptable.

The ABC News poll also indicates that Bush's approval ratings in a wide range of areas have improved only marginally in some areas, while continuing to slip in others. His ratings continue to be net negative on the economy, Iraq, social security, health insurance, taxes, creating jobs, the budget deficit, prescription drugs and even same-sex marriage. Nor are people more convinced the country is moving in the right direction; these numbers continue to be dismal with wrong track (57 percent) far outnumbering right direction (42 percent).

The really positive changes for Bush are in a series of questions asking people who they trust more, Bush or Kerry, on a range of issues. In every area, Kerry's advantages are smaller or disadvantages greater than than they were in ABC News' March 7 poll. For example, Kerry was preferred on the economy by 12 in March, now he and Bush are tied. Or Kerry was ahead by 20 on health insurance in March, now he is ahead by just 6. And so on. These are big changes on these preferences, not just from early March but from the end of March Battleground poll I discussed yesterday and even from the (notoriously pro-Bush) Fox poll 10 days ago.

That suggests, again, not the effect of Bush campaign advertisements, but rather a rally effect compression of Kerry's advantages over Bush (rally effects usually benefit presidents across unrelated areas). Therefore, Bush's improved showing in these areas is unlikely to stick around, given an adequate push-back by Kerry's campaign.

This is probably as good a time as any for the Kerry campaign to start that push-back, including especially defining Kerry positively for voters. Bush, as the data clearly show, has been massively undermined in his core area of strength, and, despite his much-vaunted advertisements and (probably more important) having the field to himself for six weeks, has Kerry breathing down his neck.

If the Kerry campaign can kick their game up a notch, they should really start to make the Bushies sweat.

April 19, 2004

So, Did Those Ads in the Battleground States Really Work?

Initially, most of the commentary suggested those ads in the battleground states worked very well and had Kerry on the run, driving up his unfavorables and defining him negatively in voters' eyes. But now, as the GOP steps down its ad buys, the verdict is more cautious about how well the ads worked. Ronald Brownstein's Los Angeles Times article notes that, according to Anthony Corrado, a leading expert on campaign finance, "since March 4 — just after Kerry in effect wrapped up his party's nomination — Bush has bought about as much television advertising as past presidential candidates purchased for the entire general election campaign."

Corrado's assessment: ...."frankly, [the president's campaign] "didn't move the [poll] numbers that much."

Recently-released Annenberg Election Survey data confirm this assessment. Kerrry's favorability rating in the March 1-15 period was 49 favorable/39 unfavorable in the "TV states" (battleground states where the Bush campaign has been running ads). In the March 16-31 period, his rating in these states was essentially unchanged: 48 favorable/40 unfavorable.

Other Annenberg election survey data from March 21-April 7 show that, among the general public, Bush holds statistically significant advantages over Kerry on 7 out of 17 traits, while Kerry holds such advantages on 4 traits. But it's interesting to note that, among "persuadable voters" (those undecided or those who said there was a good chance they might switch their candidate preference)--the presumed target of these ads--the situation was the reverse: Kerry had significant advantages on 8 and Bush on only 3. In particular, persuadable voters, in contrast with the public as a whole, thought the phrase "says one thing, does another" applied more to Bush than Kerry and also thought "changes his mind for political reasons" applied more to Bush than Kerry.

Of course, it would be nice to see data for persuadables within TV states, but, alas, their sample sizes couldn't begin to justify looking at such a small group of respondents.

More interesting data come from the new "Battleground 2004" survey conducted by Tarrance Group/Lake Sosin Perry between March 28 and March 31. (Note that this is an LV poll, which presents problems, but at least it's a light screen--they only toss out RVs who say they are "not very likely" to vote.)

According to the accompanying analysis memo written by Lake et. al., while Kerry leads by a point in overall, he leads by 6 points in the battleground states, where Bush's ad barrage was directed. (Note that, compared to the widely-publicized late March figures from Gallup, this survey is more recent and bases its battleground state figures on about twice the number of LV respondents.)

The poll also shows Kerry ahead by 7 points among independents and by 22 points among moderates.

In terms of specific issues, the poll indicates that, where Kerry is strong, he is generally farther ahead of Bush in the battleground states than among voters as a whole. For example, Kerry is ahead by 25 points in the battleground states on protecting the middle class, compared to 19 points among all voters. Other examples include: improving the health care system (+24/+19); strenthening social security (+23/+19); prescription drugs (+20/+15); creating jobs (+19/+17); the economy (+12/+8); holding down federal spending (+11/+4); keeping American prosperous (+9/+6); and sharing your values (+7/+3).

It's also worth noting that Democrats lead Republicans in this poll by 6 points in the generic Congressional contest. That lead widens to 10 points among battleground state voters, 17 points among independents and 33 points among moderates.

Kerry's campaign is poised to ramp up its advertising in these very same states. It will be interesting to see how their results compare with those of their Republican opponents.

Seniors 2:1 Unfavorable on Medicare Prescription Drugs Bill

Kaiser Family Foundation's latest Health Poll Report Survey shows seniors 2:1 (47-24) unfavorable on the Medicare prescription drugs bill. The public as a whole is also unfavorable, by 39-28.

In addition, the poll shows that seniors overwhelmingly want two important changes to the Medicare bill: (1) change the law to allow Americans to buy prescription drugs from Canada (65-24); and (2) change the law to allow the federal government to use its buying power to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices (62-19).

These are some strong numbers. And they back up the thrust of a Sunday story in The New York Times on how the reaction to the new law seems more likely to hurt than help Republicans and Bush in two key states: Arizona and New Mexico. It would be a delicious irony if the GOP's seemingly savvy strategy of passing an expensive new entitlement for seniors wound up costing them New Mexico and Arizona because of negative reaction from these very same voters.

The best-laid plans......

April 17, 2004

College Students Catch Up to Young People in General

Harvard University's Institute of Politics (IOP) has released another in their series of polls of (four year) college undergraduates. Prior to this poll, college students--at least those at four year colleges--appeared to deviate from the preferences of young (18-29 year old) voters in general. For example, in the IOP October, 2003 survey, college students gave Bush an approval rating of 61 percent and said they preferred him over a Democratic opponent by 5 points. But polls of all young voters at the time generally gave a generic Democratic opponent a healthy lead over Bush.

In contrast, today college students give Bush only a 47 percent approval rating and say they prefer Kerry over Bush by 10 points. That's basically the same as Kerry's lead among all young voters at the present time.

Moreover, among those who say they are registered to vote and say they will "definitely be voting", Kerry has a commanding 23 point lead.

In more good news for Democrats, college students give Democrats an 8 point lead over Republicans in party ID, reversing a Republican advantage in October, 2003. It's also the largest lead Democrats have had on party ID since IOP started taking their surveys in fall of 2000.

There is more interesting data in the poll on college students' views of specific issues. You can read the entire poll here.

April 16, 2004

New Lows in Support for Bush Policies on Iraq and the War on Terror

Kerry may or may not be ahead in the race at the current time. Head-to-head RV polls, which I've argued are the most important polls to look at, tended to show Kerry ahead through the end of last week (April 9) when the last batch were conducted.

We'll probably have some new ones released this weekend and it will be interesting to see what they show. It's within the realm of possibility that Bush's press conference/speech this week will produce some kind of small rally effect. Or it may not.

Either way, the really significant political development in the recent period is the undercutting of support for Bush's war in Iraq and for his handling of the war on terror. Here are some findings from recent polls that show just how seriously his standing in this area--once his ticket to sure re-election--has eroded.

The latest Annenberg Election Survey includes this question: "Has the war in Iraq reduced the risk of terrorism against the United States or increased the risk of terrorism against the United States?" Very straightforward. By about 2:1 (57-29), the public says the Iraq war has increased the risk of terrorism against the US. Wow.

The poll also asks another very straightforward question: "All in all, do you think the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over, or not?". Note that there's no specific mention in this question of the war's costs--casualties, money, etc.--which has tended to produce negative responses for quite a while (e.g., the CBS News question). But, even with no mention of costs, this question still returns a negative response: 51-43 saying the Iraq situation wasn't worth going to war about. That could represent some kind of a turning point in public evaluations of the Iraq war.

Another noteworthy recent finding comes from a recent Ipsos-AP poll. In that poll, Bush's approval rating on "handling the war on terrorism" clocks in at just 51 percent.

These new lows suggest just how difficult it may be for Bush to run--and win--as a "war president", as he likes to describe himself. And for further indications on this score, check out this excellent Los Angeles Times article on how reactions to the Iraq quagmire (if I may use that term) may sink his chances to carry Minnesota, very high on the Bush campaign's list of blue states they hope to pick off in November.

April 15, 2004

Live by the Tax Issue, Die by the Tax Issue?

The political theory of cutting taxes is that people will feel their taxes have gone down and feel generally better off. Therefore, if you cut taxes they will vote for you.

The devil may be in the details on that one. In a just-released Ipsos-AP poll, 49 percent say their overall tax burden--federal, state and local--has gone up in the last three years. That's almost four times the number (13 percent) who say their tax burden has gone down over that time period.

And here's an even more devestating datum: in a new ICR-Money magazine poll, 60 percent say they personally did not benefit from the 2003 tax cut, compared to just 34 percent who say they did.

Much of this has to with the trivial nature of the tax benefits doled out to the middle class, compared to those doled out to the affluent. For the average voter, these benefits were no doubt easy to miss. But I wonder if some of the jaundiced reaction at this point isn't attributable to finding out, as tax day approached, that you owed Uncle Sam substantially more than you thought you did. That happened to me and a number of other people I know and it reflects the way the withholding schedules were changed last year, in association with the tax cuts, to pump more money into people's pockets. That worked in the short run but now it means many people have to write some serious checks they weren't planning on and they're probably not happy about it.

The ICR-Money survey also shows that the public would prefer reducing the federal deficit to the 2003 tax cut by 50-42. Still more impressive, the public would prefer a job creation program to the 2003 tax cut by a stunning 76-21. That includes 89 percent of Democrats, 83 percent of independents and even 54 percent of Republicans who say they would prefer a job creation program to the tax cut.

These findings lead me to one of my favorite hobby horses: the potential role of government spending in job creation. The public is clearly much more enthusiastic about using government resources--such as might be used to support tax cuts--for job creation than they are about using such resouces for deficit reduction. Yet the Kerry team has been at pains to emphasize their commitment to deficit reduction and has been backing off their commitment to spending programs that might generate jobs.

This seems strange, given these and other poll results, many of which I have reviewed in DR. I understand that Rubinomics, as the economic program associated with the Clinton years has appeal (especially and non-trivially to those Kerry advisors who were intimately involved with it). And I understand that advocating spending on job creation means the Republicans will try to pin the tax-and-spend label on Kerry.

But surely there's a middle ground here. As Louis Uchitelle argued in an important article in Sunday's New York Times, it is time to revisit the idea that government should play a more substantial role in job creation.

Uchitelle concludes his article with the following three paragraphs:

Free markets work best when government stays in the background, encouraging the private sector through various supportive measures. President Bill Clinton made that claim and took credit for the full employment that finally reappeared in the late 1990's. President Bush has staked out roughly the same ground, although the job creation he promises as a result of his tax cuts has not occurred. It will, Mr. Kerry says, if we cancel the most egregious Bush tax cuts and substitute incentives that encourage corporate hiring.

The public wonders. Years of layoffs, wage stagnation, outsourcing and now offshore contracting have made people skeptical. [Barney] Frank plays to that skepticism. So do a few others, the most important being Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a Democratic leader who in recent speeches appears to be trying to push his party back toward New Deal policies. The government job creation in his proposals would be coupled with much-needed public spending.

School and highway construction are examples. "Every billion dollars invested in highway construction produces 47,500 jobs,'' the senator said in a speech. He added: "We must create new and meaningful jobs for all Americans. And we must do this by recognizing once again that government - an enlightened government - has an extraordinary responsibility to assist in this task.''

Food for thought.

April 13, 2004

Republican Analysts Lower the Bar

Here's a recent statement on Bush's approval ratings and what they portend for his re-election from the conservative website RealClearPolitics.com.

As a crude measuring stick for the state of the presidential race, an over 50% job approval for the President should translate into a Bush victory. A 45% - 49% job approval will mean a close race, but I would give President Bush the advantage. A 40% - 44% job approval for the President would translate into a dead heat race, and below 40% and you would have to give the advantage to Kerry.

Oh really? And just what do they base this cheerful assessment on? They don't say, but it is worth noting that this represents a considerable lowering of the bar for Bush (just keep it at 45 or above and even 40-44 isn't so bad!) compared to earlier Republican claims about his approval ratings.

Here's what I had to say back in February of 2003 when Matthew Dowd, pollster for the RNC, was touting 50 percent or above as the magic number for Bush:

....we don't really know an incumbent president at 50 percent can't be defeated. After all, we only have approval rating data from 1948 onwards, so there are a very limited amount of cases to consider -- to be precise, eight, if we restrict our attention to incumbent presidents. Of these eight, none had a rating of exactly 50 percent in July of their election year and the closest was 53 percent. So maybe 53 percent is the magic level (if there is one) -- Dowd's use of the 50 percent level is purely arbitrary and slants the rather thin historical record in Bush's favor. In addition, the president who had this 53 percent rating and was, in fact, reelected (Ronald Reagan in 1984) also had the benefit of a strong economy. So what happens at 53 percent and a weak economy, like Bush currently has? We don't know. And we certainly don't know about 50 percent and a weak economy, the scenario Dowd seems to be trying to cover with his confident historical assertions. Indeed, the closer one looks at Dowd's "50 percent and you're golden" rule for re-electing incumbent presidents, the shakier it looks. What he's trying to pass off as an iron law of history is, in fact, a tendentious reading of a very modest amount of real data.

What goes for Dowd goes double for RealClearPolitics and their attempt to make 45 percent the magic number.

Especially since there's really only one case that falls into the 45-49 percent approval category--where Bush is now--and that's Gerald Ford. And he lost. And there's really never been a 40-44 case (Carter and Bush I were sub-40 guys) so how can they say that such a rating translates into a "dead heat"? It seems more reasonable, if you're going to play this game, to say that a rating in between Ford's and Carter/Bush I's translates into a likely loss, not a tossup.

These guys are just whistling past the graveyard. Their attempts to make up fake historical laws are just designed to (1) paper over the fact that his current approval ratings are more bad than good news for an incumbent president; and (2) give them bogus talking points so that, if Bush falls any farther, they can still claim he's bound to win.

Don't be taken in. They're worried. Real worried.

April 12, 2004

All Trial Heats Are Not Created Equal

There's been considerable confusion about which trial heat results to pay the most attention to at this point in the race. Here's my take, which should help clarify why I choose to focus on certain results over others in this blog.

One issue is likely voters (LVs) vs. registered voters (RVs). At this point, most polls are surveying only RVs and I believe that's appropriate and, in fact, preferable. It is way too early to put much faith in likely voter screens/models as representing very accurately the voters who will actually show up on election day. There is reasonable evidence that careful likely voter methodologies work well close to the election and do fairly accurately capture that pool of voters. But there is no such evidence for LV samples drawn this far out.

Indeed, my understanding is that Gallup does LVs this early not so much because they believe they are capturing election day voters this early, but more so that they can avoid having to explain sudden shifts in the horse race question as LV data replaces RV data in the fall (the traditional time to switch from RVs to LVs). There have apparently been some problems with this in the past, so reporting both from the very beginning of the campaign eliminates any potential embarrassments along these lines. But that doesn't mean the LV data is any better at this point in time--it merely means they're providing it.

In fact, since the sample size for LVs is smaller and since the composition of the LV sample will shift depending on how political developments are affecting interest and intensity levels among different groups of voters, additional volatility is built into the LV samples that is not there with the RV samples.

And then there are the comparability problems. LV samples are difficult even to compare to one another, since methodologies differ, and clearly can't be compared very well to RV samples, which are the bulk of polls at this time. That's another strike against paying much attention to LV results this early.

Another issue is how much attention to pay to the Rasmussen tracking poll. My view is that this poll is worth looking at but with caution. It is the only tracking poll out there at this point and therefore on any given day it may have the "freshest" results. But it is only one poll and there is no other tracking poll to check it against. Moreover, it is a poll of LVs, which, as outlined above, should be viewed with some skepticism at this point. Therefore, I am inclined to pay more attention to standard national polls of RVs and the trends these polls imply than to this one tracking poll.

Let me sum up my current approach, both as outlined above and in previous posts (for example, on the Bush-Kerry vs. Bush-Kerry-Nader question) with the following:

Ruy's Rules

1. Pay more attention to Bush-Kerry results than to Bush-Kerry-Nader results.

2. Pay more attention to RV results than LV results.

3. Pay more attention to recent national polls of RVs and the trends they imply than to the Rasmussen poll.

These rules don't mean ignore the rest of the data. On the contrary, immerse yourself in as much of it as you can stand. But these rules provide a way to sift through the available data to get the best sense of how the contest between Bush and Kerry is developing.

April 11, 2004

It's Official: Kerry's Ahead

I noted on April 2 that Kerry was ahead of Bush by 5 points in a Bush-Kerry trial heat among RVs. The two latest Bush-Kerry trial heats among RVs show Kerry ahead by even wider margins.

The latest ARG poll, conducted April 6-9, has Kerry ahead by 6 (50-44). And the latest Newsweek poll, conducted April 8-9, has Kerry ahead by 7 (50-43).

The Newsweek poll also finds that, by 60-23, the public thinks the Bush administration "underestimated the terrorist threat and focused too much on other security issues like missile defense and Iraq" rather than "took the threat of global terrorism as seriously as it should have prior to September 11th".

And note that this poll was taken before the release of the August 6, 2001 briefing memo to Bush, which just hit the papers today. It will be interesting to see how much the release of this memo further erodes Bush's credibility and political standing.

April 10, 2004

It's Official: Rice's Testimony Didn't Work

CBS News reinterviewed some of the respondents from their March 30-April 1 poll on the night of April 8, the day Rice testified. Here are some of the changes they found.

Bush's handling of the situation with Iraq: essentially unchanged (45 percent approval/50 percent disapproval to 46/50).

Bush's handling of the campaign against terrorism: down slightly, from 58/36 to 56/38.

Whether the result of the war with Iraq was worth the associated costs: down from 39 yes/53 no to 34 yes/57 no (27/65 among independents).

Whether the US did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq or should have stayed out: down from 55 right thing/39 stayed out to 50/46.

Whether the policies of the Bush adminstration have made the US safer from terrorism: very slightly up, from 50 yes to 51.

Whether the Bush administration was paying enough attention to terrorism prior to 9/11: up from 18 paying enough attention/71 not enough attention, but only to 25/68.

Good thing Bush is taking a rest. It looks like he's going to need it.

April 9, 2004

Newer Democrats

Here's an excerpt from an article of mine that was just posted on The Gadflyer, an excellent new webzine, on whose Board of Advisors I'm proud to sit. (And you can read the whole article here.)

Once upon a time, Old Democrats – which is to say New Deal Democrats – roamed the earth. They were rooted in an economy dominated by mass production industries and politically based among the workers, overwhelmingly white, in those industries. Their Democratic Party was the party of the white working class and the Party's dominance among these voters was the key to its political success. But that relationship could not and did not survive the decline of mass production industries and the rise of postindustrial capitalism.

First, there was the transformation of the white working class itself. In 1948, about two-thirds of the workforce was white men, and the bulk of these white men worked at blue-collar manufacturing and construction jobs or at blue collar service jobs like janitor or warehouseman. But the last half century has changed all that. The white working class has become much more diverse – today, there are almost as many women workers as men – even as unionization has declined. And only a relatively small proportion (17 percent) of the white working class works in manufacturing (even among men, the proportion is still less than one-quarter).

Second, as this great transformation was changing the character of the white working class, reducing the size and influence of the Democrats' traditional blue-collar constituencies, the evolution of postindustrial capitalism was creating new constituencies and movements with new demands. These new constituencies and movements – civil rights, feminist, environmentalist, student, gay rights – wanted more out of the welfare state than steady economic growth, copious infrastructure spending and the opportunity to raise a family in the traditional manner.

Of these movements, the one with most far-reaching political effects was the civil rights movement and its demands for equality and economic progress for black America. Democrats, both because of ideology and their political relationship to the black community, had no choice but to respond to those demands. The result was a great victory for social justice, but one that created huge political difficulties for the Democrats among their white working class supporters. Kevin Phillips captured these developments well in his book, The Emerging Republican Majority:

"The principal force which broke up the Democratic (New Deal) coalition is the Negro socioeconomic revolution and liberal Democratic ideological inability to cope with it. Democratic "Great Society" programs aligned that party with many Negro demands, but the party was unable to defuse the racial tension sundering the nation. The South, the West, and the Catholic sidewalks of New York were the focus points of conservative opposition to the welfare liberalism of the federal government; however, the general opposition…came in large part from prospering Democrats who objected to Washington dissipating their tax dollars on programs which did them no good. The Democratic Party fell victim to the ideological impetus of a liberalism which had carried it beyond programs taxing the few for the benefit of the many…to programs taxing the many on behalf of the few."

But if race was the chief vehicle by which the New Deal coalition was torn apart, it was by no means the only one. White working class voters also reacted poorly to the extremes with which the rest of the new social movements became identified. Feminism became identified with bra-burners, lesbians and hostility to the nuclear family; the antiwar movement with appeasement of the Third World radicals and the Soviet Union; the environmental movement with a Luddite opposition to economic growth and the move toward more personal freedom with a complete abdication of personal responsibility.

The result was a catastrophic desertion of white working class voters from the Democratic Party. The average white working class vote for the Democrats in 1960-64 was 55 percent; in the Nixon elections of 1968-72 and in the Reagan elections of 1980-84 it was 35 percent, a staggering 20 point drop in support from their key constituency.

But as the white working class was changing and moving away from the Democrats, other pro-Democratic constituencies were emerging:


The secret to Bill Clinton's electoral success in the 1990's was activating these new constituencies, even as he drew back some of the Democrats' lost support among the white working class. Al Gore's problem in 2000 was that he didn't do as well among the Democrats' emerging constituencies and he lost back most of Clinton's gains among the white working class. The key to 2004 clearly lies in improving Democratic performance in both areas.

That's where Newer Democrats come in. New Democrats like to maintain, of course, that all of Clinton's successes were attributable to following the moderate policies they have advocated since 1985 to correct the party's "liberal fundamentalism" which, as William Galston and Elaine Kamarck argued in The Politics of Evasion:

"the public has come to associate with tax and spending policies that contradict the interests of average families; with welfare policies that foster dependence rather than self-reliance; with softness toward the perpetrators of crime and indifference toward its victims; with ambivalence toward the assertion of American values and interests abroad; and with an adversarial stance toward mainstream moral and cultural values."

Conversely, Gore's failure in 2000 was attributable to the reverse: not following the DLC's great advice, especially his inexplicable emphasis on populist themes after the 2000 Democratic convention. The populist-liberal wing of the party – the descendants of the Old Democrats – strenuously dispute the New Democrats' self-aggrandizing analysis, pointing to the many populist elements of Clinton's successful campaigns, as well as Gore's surge in the polls in 2000 after he adopted his populist stance.

Newer Democrats view this argument between New and Old Democrats as old hat and fundamentally unproductive. Their pragmatic concern is to toughen up the party to beat George Bush and take back Congress; any tool from the Democratic toolbox that works, be it New, Old or in between should be employed toward that end.

April 8, 2004

Will Condi Rice's Testimony Stop the Bleeding?

Seems unlikely to me based on the parts of that testimony I caught on TV. And especially unlikely given the strongly negative public opinion trends that are buffeting the Bush administration.

Consider the following. After a month where Bush spent heavily on campaign ads attacking John Kerry and where the economy finally turned in a good performance on creating jobs, the president's political position has gotten substantially worse, not better.

The lastest Pew Research Center poll, conducted April 1-4 and overlapping with last Friday's strong jobs report, has his overall job approval rating at 43 percent--the worst rating in any public poll of his presidency--with 47 percent disapproval. The same poll has his approval rating on the economy at just 39 percent with 53 percent disapproval.

In the latest CBS News poll, his economic approval rating is even worse: 37 percent approval/56 percent disapproval (30/59, almost 2:1 disapproval, among independents). And that's at the end of a strong economic month for the administration.

But it is on Iraq, foreign policy and, above all, the war on terror that Bush's position has deteriorated most significantly. That I believe was the most important political development of month of March, not the much-ballyhooed Bush campaign ads and the (completely predictable) diminution in Kerry's lead over Bush in polling trial heats.

In the Pew poll, Bush's approval rating on Iraq is down to 40 percent with 53 percent disapproval. That's a 35 point swing from the Iraq rating Bush received in January in the same poll (59/37).

On foreign policy, the CBS News poll has Bush at 42 percent approval/49 percent disapproval and a dismal 36/52 among independents.

But it's on his handling of the war on terror that Bush has taken the most significant blows to his political standing. That area has been Bush's political fortress ever since 9/11.

No longer--that fortress is crumbling. In the CBS News poll, he's down to 58 percent approval in this area. And in two recent polls--the Pew poll and the Annenberg Election Survey--his approval rating on handling the war against terrorism is down to a distinctly underwhelming 53 percent.

Moreover, by almost 3:1 (67-23) in the CBS News poll, the public now says the Bush administration could have done more to prevent the 9/11 terrorist attacks (more than 3:1--68/20--among independents).

As revelations about the Bush administration's inept handling of the terrorist threat, both before and after 9/11, continue to emerge, the public's view of Bush's performance in this area seems likely to deteriorate even further.

As will definitely be the case with his handling of Iraq, given the increasing violence and instability there (note that the polls discussed here were taken prior to this week's intense street battles in multiple cities). In the CBS News poll, those saying the result of the Iraq war was not worth the loss of US life and other costs now outnumber those saying it was by 54-37 (59-32 among independents, almost 2:1). Only 36 percent believe the war has made the US safer from terrorism; only 34 percent believe the Iraq war is a major part of the war against terrorism; and just 15 percent believe the Bush administration has clearly explained how long US troops will be in Iraq.

In addition, the Pew poll shows that, by 57-32, people don't think Bush has a clear plan to bring the Iraq situation to a successful conclusion. And the public is now close to evenly split on whether to keep troops in Iraq until a stable government is etablished (50 percent) or simply bring troops home as soon as possible (44 percent). That's down from strong 63-32 support for keeping troops there in January.

Yup, it'll take more than Condi Rice's stonewalling to turn these numbers around. And clearly Bush's deteriorating political position has already benefitted Kerry, who leads now leads by 5 points (16 points among independents ) in CBS News' presidential trial heat.

But I am nevertheless struck by how timid Kerry's approach seems given Bush's increasing vulnerabilities. His economic plan is quite cautious, focusing around fiddling with tax incentives and deficit reduction (see his speech yesterday at Georgetown University). Is this really a convincing answer to the challenges posed by outsourcing and the end of the 90's bubble economy? I don't think so--and read these important pieces by Paul Glastris and Brad DeLong/Stephen Cohen to get a sense of how seriously vision-challenged Kerry's current economic policies are.

As for Iraq and the war on terror, Kerry seems content to let the evolving situation drag Bush down without any help from him. That may have been a wise decision over the short run but it is not sustainable over the long run. Here's an excerpt from today's Adam Nagourney/Carl Hulse story in The New York Times:

Mr. Kerry described the president's Iraq policy as "one of the greatest failures of diplomacy and failures of judgment that I have seen in all the time that I've been in public life."

Still, even as he attacked Mr. Bush, Mr. Kerry was notably vague in saying how he would handle the matter as president. His advisers said he had no plans to offer a policy speech about a war that aides to Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry alike said they now expected to provide a bloody backdrop for the campaign for months.

"Right now, what I would do differently is, I mean, look, I'm not the president, and I didn't create this mess so I don't want to acknowledge a mistake that I haven't made," Mr. Kerry said on Wednesday on CNN.

Seems pretty damn weak to me. I think he's going to have to do a lot better than this if he is to reap full political advantage from Bush's increasing vulnerability on Iraq and national security.

April 2, 2004

Seniors Just Don't Like That New Medicare Presciption Drugs Law!

Oh those pesky seniors! They never do what they're supposed to do, at least if you're a GOP political strategist. Check out this new analysis from Gallup of attitudes toward the Medicare prescription drugs law.

Here's the most amazing thing: seniors now say they oppose, not favor, the part of the law that should be most popular among them: the new prescription drug benefit. In early December, they narrowly favored it, 46-39. But now, four months later, they say they oppose it, 48-36.

The Gallup analysis also finds that only 26 percent of seniors believe the new law will actually help seniors with their prescription drugs situation, rather than hurt it or have no effect. And only 14 percent of seniors think the bill will help make the Medicare system more financially secure.

Read 'em and weep, Karl.

Note: With this post, I'm off on Spring Break 'til Wednesday. Back with analysis of the latest polling data and other thoughts then.

News Flash: New CBS News Poll Has Kerry Up by 5

The latest CBS News poll, conducted March 30-April 1, has Kerry beating Bush by 5 points among RVs. That's consistent with the Los Angeles Times data I discussed yesterday.

There's also new and strong evidence of Bush's eroding credibility and the public's declining confidence in his handling of the war on terror. Check it out.

Views on Bush's Economic Performance

The Bush administration got a bit of welcome news today, with the release of the new jobs report. In March, the economy added 308,000 jobs, though, in the process, the unemployment rate ticked up to 5.7 percent.

That's the first month of really strong job growth we've seen in this recovery. Here's some analysis from the Economic Policy Institute's excellent Job Watch publication that'll help put that one month of good job growth in perspective:

The Bush Administration called the tax cut package, which was passed in May 2003 and took effect in July 2003, its "Jobs and Growth Plan." The president's economics staff, the Council of Economic Advisers projected that the plan would result in the creation of 5.5 million jobs by the end of 2004—306,000 new jobs each month, starting in July 2003. After eight months of falling considerably short of that projection, job gains for the month of March finally hit that level. For the nine months as a whole, however, the administration projected that a total of 2,754,000 jobs would be created after the tax cuts took effect. In fact, only 689,000 jobs were created over that period for a cumulative shortfall of 2,065,000 jobs.

Since the recession began 36 months ago in March 2001, 2.0 million jobs have disappeared, a 1.5% contraction. The Bureau of Labor Statistics began collecting monthly jobs data in 1939 (at the end of the Great Depression). In every previous episode of recession and job decline since 1939, the number of jobs had fully recovered to above the pre-recession peak within 31 months of the start of the recession. Today's labor market would have 3.4 million more jobs if jobs had grown by the 1.1% rate that occurred in the early 1990s recession and so-called "jobless recovery," the worst record prior to this current period.

So perhaps it's not yet time for Bush to do his traditional "Mission Accomplished" act. Especially since the public, despite having lived through a statistically good month for job growth, is still in an ornery mood about Bush's management of the economy.

To begin with, Gallup's mid-March poll found economic pessimism higher, not lower, relative to their February poll. And their late March poll found Bush's approval rating on the economy lower, not higher, than it was in February.

The new Los Angeles Times poll confirms Bush's low standing in the public's eyes on economic performance. His approval rating on the economy in this poll--taken at the very end of March--is only 43 percent with 53 percent disapproval. And, among independents, his rating is an abysmal 35 percent with 63 percent disapproval, roughly matching his poor performance among moderates (35/60).

In terms of how well Bush's policies have worked, only 25 percent believe his policies have made the country more prosperous, compared to 70 percent who believe either they've made the country less prosperous (43 percent) or they've made no difference (27 percent).

And who would do best at "protecting the financial security of the average American"? Kerry would, by 47-34, rising to a 23 point margin (49-26) among independents.

The public, on the other hand, has full confidence in Bush's commitment to protecting the interests of large business corporations. By exactly 3:1 (63-21), they say Bush is more interested in protecting the interests of these corporation than protecting those of ordinary working people (69-14 among independents).

The public is also worried about the wave of corporate scandals that have taken place on Bush's watch. By 10 points (50-40), they say wrongdoing among corporate executives is a widespread problem in which many are taking advantage of a failing system, rather than a problem of a few corrupt individuals in a basically honest system (59-34 among independents).

It seems safe to say that Bush's problems on the economy are deep enough and broad enough that they are unlikely to be solved by one month--or even several--of statistically improved labor market performance.

April 1, 2004

Los Angeles Times Poll Confirms Bush Difficulties

The newly-released Los Angeles Times (LAT) poll confirms the difficulties Bush is now facing in his re-election effort, including eroding support for his handling of the war on terror. The poll also presents a less-cheerful view of how Bush is faring against Kerry in election trial heats, when compared to the much-publicized Gallup poll I discussed on Tuesday.

Let's start with the horse race data. The LAT poll, which has a larger sample size (N=1,616) than the Gallup poll and was conducted more recently (March 27-30), finds Kerry ahead 49-46 among RVs. The Gallup poll, in contrast, had exactly the reverse result--Bush ahead of Kerry by 49-46.

According to the LAT data, Kerry's lead is larger among independents (49-44) than among all RVs and much larger among moderates (58-33). In addition, Kerry pulls two-thirds of the youth (18-29) vote and leads among seniors by 9 points (51-42).

It's also interesting to note that Kerry is pulling 43 percent among white men, only behind Bush by about 10 points. In 2000, Gore only drew 36 percent among this group and lost to Bush by 24 points.

The LAT poll includes a Bush-Kerry-Nader trial heat, as well as the Bush-Kerry matchup just discussed. The intruiging result here is that inclusion of Nader does not change the balance between Kerry and Bush; the margin remains exactly the same. Note that this result--Nader not changing the Bush-Kerry margin--was also observed in the Gallup poll mentioned above.

The poll finds the public saying by a wide margin that the country is off on the wrong track (55 percent), rather than going in the right direction (36 percent). And among independents, it's a stunningly negative verdict: 61 percent wrong track/29 percent right direction.

In terms of approval ratings, Bush's overall rating is 51 percent and his rating on Iraq is 49 percent, both 2 points lower than the ratings reported by Gallup on Tuesday. And his rating on "handling the war on terrorism", consistent with other recent polls, is now down to 56 percent, an underwhelming figure for what has been, by far, his strongest area (and it's only 52 percent among moderates).

Also consistent with other recent polls, the public agrees, by 52-40, that Bush failed to take the threat of terrorism seriously enough before the September 11 Al Qaeda attacks (57-38 among independents and 54-38 among moderates). The public agrees even more strongly that Bush was more focused on attacking Iraq than dealing with terrorism as his top priority (64-32 (2:1!) among independents and 61-33 among moderates).

The LAT poll gives Kerry a better favorability rating than the recent Gallup poll. His favorable rating is 48 percent with just 29 percent unfavorable, for a +19 differential. That differential rises to +24 among independents and +36 among moderates (only 19 percent of this group views Kerry unfavorably).

Bush, in contrast, is viewed favorably by 50 percent, just barely more than the 47 percent who view him unfavorably, for a narrow +3 differential. And among independents (-8 differential) and moderates (-10), he is viewed more unfavorably than favorably.

In the poll, more people believe the statement "he cares about people like me" applies to Kerry than to Bush (43-33). And independents (51-22) and moderates (53-25) prefer Kerry particularly strongly.

The poll finds the public narrowly preferring Bush to Kerry on "he will be a strong leader for the country" (46-38) and on "he has the honesty and integrity to be president (41-36), but, in each case, independents and moderates believe these statements apply more to Kerry than Bush.

And here's an interesting one. What's the quintessential GOP attack on Kerry these days?: "he flip-flops on the issues", of course. Well, in this poll, nearly as many say this statement applies to Bush (35 percent) as say it applies to Kerry (38 percent). And moderates actually say, by 38-28, that the statement applies more to Bush than Kerry!

Perhaps that line of criticism will not turn out to be quite the slam-dunk the GOP has assumed.

Tomorrow: The LAT poll on the economy and related issues.