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A Nation of Unhappy Campers

So many polls, so little time. In the last several days, four more major public polls have been released, in addition to the four I previously discussed in "Pre-Inauguration Blues", Part I and Part II. By and large, the tale told by these polls is quite consistent with the story I laid out in those earlier posts: we are a nation of unhappy campers at the beginning of Bush's second term. And he has quite a challenge in front of him to win these unhappy campers over, given his relatively unpopular agenda and apparent contempt for the political center.

Here are some of the more interesting findings from these new polls:

New York Times/CBS News Poll

1. When asked whether things in the US are going better, worse or the same as five years ago, just 20 percent say better, 56 percent say worse and 21 percent say the same. Compare that to responses at the beginning of Poppa Bush's term in 1989 (44 percent better/26 percent worse/23 percent same) and at the beginning of Reagan's second term in 1985 (57 percent better/26 percent worse/11 percent same). Evidently Bush has a different coalition-building strategy than Reagan-era Republicans: make things worse!

2. The public is more likely to believe the next four years of Bush's presidency will divide Americans (47 percent) than bring them together (44 percent).

3. Expectations of progress in other areas during Bush's second term are minimal: only 17 percent think the US will be more respected in the world; 33 percent think the economy will be better than it is today; 29 percent think the US will be safer from terrorism; 24 percent believe the educational system will be better; 15 percent believe the price they pay for prescription drugs will be lower and just 9 percent think their taxes will be lower. Even on Iraq, only 38 percent believe there will be fewer troops there four long years from now. And 66 percent believe the federal budget deficit will be bigger.

4. Speaking of the deficit, almost four-fifths (78 percent) say it is not possible to overhaul Social Security, cut taxes and pay for the war in Iraq (all of which Bush proposes to do) without running up the budget deficit.

5. Another of Bush's schemes is to maintain and extend the system where income from investments and interest is taxed less than income from wages and salaries. Only 28 percent endorse that approach, while 66 percent say investment income should be taxed either the same (54 percent) or more (12 percent).

6. By 50-45, the public says it is bad idea, rather than good idea, to allow "individuals to invest portions of their Social Security taxes on their own, which might allow them to make more money for their retirement, but would involve greater risk". That's the most negative judgement this poll has received on this question since they first started asking it in mid-2000. Moreover, support for this proposition drops to 22 percent, when it is posited that establishing personal accounts would reduce the guaranteed benefit by as much as a third.

As for whether they would be likely to actually invest in the stock market through these personal accounts, just 39 percent say they would be likely to do so. And that figure drops to 30 percent, when it is pointed out that the personal accounts would be accompanied by a drop in the guaranteed benefit.

And in terms of Bush's motivations in seeking changes to the Social Security system, 50 percent say he primarily trying to help Wall Street investment companies, compared to 40 percent who think he is trying to help average Americans.

7. On Iraq, the number saying we did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq is down to 45 percent, tied for the lowest ever. And for the first time, a majority (53 percent to 41 percent) say that the war in Iraq will not have been worth the costs if we never find weapons of mass destruction there.

A majority (52-41) also believes that it is not possible for the US to create a stable democracy in Iraq and that Bush is making the situation in Iraq today sound better than it really is (55 percent). Just 15 percent believe violence in Iraq will decline after the election and a mere 18 percent believe Bush has a clear plan for dealing with the situation in Iraq (down 20 points from before November's election).

In terms of the war's effect on terrorist threats against the US, less than a fifth (19 percent) think such threats have been decreased, while 33 percent say they've increased and 47 percent think they've stayed the same.

Like I said, a nation of unhappy campers.

More on unhappy campers tomorrow.....

Comments

On the other hand, given the Bush administration's ability to make lemonade out of lemons, it does seem as though the bar has been set pretty low for Bush's second term and he may not have to do a whole lot in order to clear it. In that sense, then, maybe it would make sense for those in the Democratic Party to set a higher bar-- like a plan for Iraq, an economic agenda that doesn't involve exploding the deficit, and a plan for improving access to healthcare-- and see how well the president does by that measurement.

I guess this is good news. But these same people voted for Bush and a republican congress, so I don't really understand why they don't like anything he's doing. I didn't believe it had to do with so-called Christian Values, but what else is left?

Might I suggest a quick read of comments from Bob Herbert and Paul Krugman in the NY Times today.

Very appropriate for the mindless kool-aid drinkers supporting GW

True Believer