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A Nation of Unhappy Campers (Continued)

Today we continue our tour of unhappy camperland, after the stirring festivities of yesterday. (Incidentally, if you're looking for a useful analysis of Bush's speech the best one I've run into, oddly enough, is this op-ed, "Way Too Much God" by Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal.)

Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll

1. Are we better off than we were four years ago? The top area here is the nation's feeling of security, where 40 percent say we're better off. After that, it drops off as follows: optimism about the future (35 percent); economic conditions (25 percent); moral values and standards (23 percent); the education system (20 percent); America's standing in the world (16 percent); and partisanhip in Washington (just 10 percent).

2. How should the Democrats conduct themselves in Congress? By 57-33, the public thinks Democrats should provide a balance so Bush and the Republicans don't go too far, rather than work in a bipartisan fashion to pass Bush's legislative priorities.

3. On Social Security, 50 percent say it's a bad idea, compared to 40 percent who say it's a good idea, to change the Social Security system to allow workers to invest their Social Security contributions in the stock market. A more complicated question, that pits "making some adjustments" to Social Security and "running the risk that the system will fall short of money" (44 percent) vs. "changing the Social Security system" to allow private accounts and "running the risk that some people will lose money...due to drops in the stock market" (46 percent) yields close to an even split.

Does Bush have a mandate "to allow workers to invest some of their Social Security taxes in the stock market"? By a wide 56-33 margin, the public says no. And here's an interesting finding: this poll gave respondents a "serious trouble but not in a crisis" option in their question on whether there is crisis in the financial situation of Social Security. The result: just 14 percent say Social Security is in a “crisis”, with another 38 percent opting for the less apocalyptic “in serious trouble, but not in a crisis” (another 45 percent say the system is in some trouble or not really in trouble at all). A similar question asked about the financial situation of Social Security in 10-20 years returned only 23 percent saying the system’s financial situation will be in crisis at that time.

4,. On Iraq, 52 percent say “removing Saddam Hussein from power” was worth the costs of the war, compared to 40 percent who say it wasn’t (tied for the most negative reading on this question in this poll).

Los Angeles Times poll

1. In terms of how much progress he government in Washington will make solving the major problems facing the country, only 18 percent say "a great deal" or "quite a lot"; 77 percent say "only some" or "not much at all".

2. In terms of economic policies, about a quarter (26 percent) think Bush's economic policies have made the country better off in the last four years; 71 percent think these policies have made the country worse off (43 percent) or left it about the same (28 percent). In addition, 51 percent believe Bush cares most about rich people, compared to 3 percent who say he cares most about the poor, 7 percent who think he cares most about those with middle income and 35 percent who say he cares equally about all income groups. And, by 62-26, the public believes Bush cares more about protecting the interests of the large business corporations, rather than ordinary working people.

3. By an overwhelming 71-25 margin the public believes Bush should compromise with Democrats on his issues, rather than proceed as if he has a mandate to push through his agenda.

4. On Social Security, by a 52-42 margin (64-33 among independents) the public disapproves of the idea of allowing workers to divert payroll tax money to private investment accounts, given a tradeoff between the possibility these accounts could earn "a higher rate of return in the stock market" and the possibility the stock market might be "too unpredictable. And, when a followup is asked about supporting private accounts if such accounts meant a reduction in guaranteed benefits, support drops to just 23 percent. The latter figure is quite consistent with other polls and suggests hardcore support for Social Security privatization is no more than one-fifth to one-quarter of the public.

5. A similar exercise finds 54 support for making Bush's tax cuts permanent falling to 34 percent if making the tax cuts permanent meant the federal budget would remain in deficit. The poll also finds that 58 percent believe the rich have been the primary beneficiaries of the tax cuts, rather than middle income people (25 percent) or the poor (5 percent) and that an economic agenda focused on infrastructure improvements (60 percent), rather than tax cuts (34 percent), would do the best job stimulating the nation's economy.

6. On Iraq, by 56-39, the public now says the situation in Iraq was not worth going to war over (62-35 among independents). Only 24 percent believe the war in Iraq has stabilized the situation in the Middle East; only 29 percent believe the US is winning the war in Iraq; only 31 percent believe the impending Iraq election will lead to significant improvement in the Iraq security situation; only 23 percent believe the Iraqis ready to govern their country without US help; and just 10 percent think US involvement has helped the US image around the world, compared to 65 percent who believe our image has been hurt.

And here's an interesting result: 47 percent agree that the invasion of Iraq has alienated many in the Muslim world, which will increase the risk of terrorism against the US, compared to 44 percent who say the overthrow of Saddam and installation of a new government will encourage changes in the Middle East that will reduce the risk of terrorism against the US.

Sounds like tough sledding for the administration's current non-WMD-based rationale for the Iraq war.

CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll

1. In Bush's first term, the public thinks the Bush administration "improved military security for the country" (62-36)and "improved moral values" in the US (50-49). Afer that, it's all negative: by 50-46, the public believes the Bush administration failed to keep America prosperous; by 48-46 that it failed to "cut your taxes" (!); by 52-45 that it failed to improve education or to increase respect for the presidency; by 63-31 that it failed to improve the quality of the environment; by 63-28 that if failed to ensure the long-term strength of the Medicare system; by 65-32 that it failed to improve respect for the US abroad; by 68-27 that it failed to heal "political divisions in this country"; by 69-26 that it failed to improve the health care system; and by 74-18 that it failed to ensure the long-term strength of the Social Security system.

Now there's a magnificent record.

2. Sorry, George, no mandate here either. By 58-36 the public believes that, since the election was so close, Bush should emphasize programs both parties support, rather than that, because he won a majority of the votes, Bush has a mandate to advance the GOP's agenda.

3. On Iraq, the mistake watch continues: in this latest Gallup poll, the number saying that the US "made a mistake sending troops to Iraq" is now up to 52 percent, continuing the steady rise in this indicator since right before November's election.

All in all, these polls, while they are not without areas of strength for Bush--most obviously, of course, on broad, non-Iraq security issues--do suggest that we are, in many important ways, a nation of unhappy campers. And a nation of unhappy campers can easily turn into a serious time-for-a-change electorate by 2006-08. In fact, based on these data, if time-for-a-change voting were a stock, I'd be buying.

Comments

Despite these bad poll numbers, which have existed for the better part of the year, Mr. Bush is now legitimately President Bush. What you cite in the polls obviously did not matter to the electorate. Republicans control both houses of congress as well. In other words, the polls don't matter at this point, they will do what they want because they have the power. Only a major groundswell of opinion will stop the Republicans from running this country totally into the ground. Bad poll numbers cannot be of any solace at this point.

When the polls ask if Bush is doing a good job a majority will say yes.
When they break down the various parts of his job he loses in almost cases.
I don't understand.

The eletion was stolen by fraudulent voting machine manipulations. Bush isn' legitimate and that is why all the polls reflect such a conflict. Until our respresentatives (HA!) in Washington decide to do something positive about the horseplay that goes on in this country at election time, polls will continue to be contradictory. Bush is an illegitmate president...he isn't the first one (NIXON) and he won't be the last....unfortunately, but he is by far the WORST president we've ever had to stomach.

Gene,

Unfortunately, I think I understand. Since the Democrats weren't able to make the 'he's a hopeless incompetent" argument, they couldn't make any of those issues stick.

So they lost.

But, admitting defeat and looking at the poll, you need to do two things to turn things around. Make the argument that President Bush weakened the country's mililtary and that he has weakened the country morally.

And unfortunately, for all of us, the Iraq debacle has crippled our military capabilities for years, and are international moral leadership is destroyed by our pretty public use of torture.

The Democrats should follow up on these results by interviewing people who don't like Bush' policies, and expect him to enact them, but voted for him anyway. They need to know what's motivating these people in order to regain power. My guess is it's a combination of 2 things: Distrust of the Dems on security issues, and what might be called the Limbaugh/Fox factor: a general distaste for the Dems after years of hearing anti-Dem/liberal propaganda. However, that's just a guess, and the Dems really, really need to find out the answer to this question, because these are the potential Dem voters that are currently voting Republican (or not voting at all).

Alan,

Well, that's simply not true. All of Congress and 1/3 of the Senate will be facing elections in less than 2 years, so the popularity of their decisions between now and 18 months from now will determine their chances. That's why Bush's SS proposals are already in trouble, even though he technically hasn't even made a SS reform plan public yet. The Congressmen are watching the polls and running away from Bush's likely SS proposals already.

Obviously, Bush's administration will be around for 4 more years, but if his policies reduce people's election chances, they'll run away from them, especially since he's a lame duck. Being an unpopular lame duck is much, much worse (particularly if his numbers decline substantially from their current point). Bush, besides being a lame duck, will have a lot less power to punish and discipline Congress, as well as competing power centers emerging (some will support Frist, some will support McCain, etc; which destroys party discipline). Bush's unpopularity will accelerate that process as jockeying for the next election cycle draws near. In addition, if he continues to decline in popularity, his influence over fund-raising will also be damaged.

If Bush was more popular, he'd have a lot more latitude than he does now. For example, he could have a much freer hand with Iran than he does now.

Gene, they like him. They just like him. I don't get it, but they pick him, a recovering alcoholic, over Kerry in answer to the question "Which would you rather have a beer with?"
They like Carter, too, but eventually concluded more in sadness than in anger that Carter had made a mess of things. I think that will happen with Bush, too. But it will take some more time.

Alan, I think these polls do make a difference, in stiffening congressional Democrats' resolve to fight the President's initiatives, and perhaps also showing Republicans that with Charley Stenholm, Zell Miller, and John Breaux now gone, they're going to have to push through their agenda relying exclusively on Republican votes. There are no longer DINOs who will lend an air of bipartisanship to every Bush atrocity. This will give moderate Republicans like Shays, Castle, Specter, Chafee and Hagel more leverage with their party's leadership, and leave some of them politically exposed in their districts if they toe the party line too often.