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Gallup, Pew, Confirm Bush Decline

In posts on Thursday and Friday, I argued that Bush's political support, already eroding because of his unpopular Social Security plan, is suffering additional and serious damage from his handling of the Schiavo case and from growing public disenchantment with the economy.

Abundant evidence for that view is provided by new polls from Gallup and the Pew Research Center. In the new Gallup poll, Bush's approval rating is down to 45 percent--that in a poll that typically runs high on Bush approval relative to other public polls. The Gallup report on the poll points out:

This is the lowest such rating Bush has received since taking office....

In the last three Gallup surveys, conducted in late February and early March, Bush's job approval rating was 52%. The timing of the seven-point drop suggests that the controversy over the Terri Schiavo case may be a major cause. New polls by ABC and CBS News show large majorities of Americans opposed to the intervention by Congress and the president in the Schiavo case, and Gallup's Tuesday-night poll shows a majority of Americans disapprove of the way Bush has handled the Schiavo situation. Almost all recent polling has shown that Americans approve of the decision to remove Schiavo's feeding tube.

But the CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey suggests that the public's increasingly dismal views about the economy, and about the way things are going in general, could also be factors in Bush's lower approval rating.

The report goes on to detail those "dismal" views about the economy:

Gallup's economic measures also show a continual decline since the beginning of the year. Thirty-two percent of Americans rate current economic conditions as excellent or good, while 24% say poor. That eight-point positive margin is the smallest since Gallup found a two-point margin last May. At the beginning of this year, 41% rated the economy as excellent or good, while just 17% said poor -- a 24-point positive margin. Earlier this month, the positive margin was 19 points, 35% to 16%.

Even more dramatic is the greater pessimism about the future of the nation's economy. Fifty-nine percent of Americans say the economy is getting worse, just 33% say better -- a 26-point negative margin. Earlier this month, the net negative rating was just nine points, with 50% saying the economy was getting worse, and 41% saying better. This is the worst rating on this measure in two years.

One factor clearly contributing to the economic malaise, as the report points out, is concern about rising gas prices (see below).

The latest Pew Research Center poll also finds Bush's approval rating at 45 percent. In addition, the poll finds support for the most basic part of Bush's Social Security plan--private accounts funded by part of the Social Security tax--continuing to sink. A generic question about these accounts, that does not mention Bush or any possible costs or tradeoffs, now returns only a narrow 44-40 plurality, down from 58-26 last September. Moreover, support for these accounts declines substantially (to 52-41 opposition) among those who have heard the most about this idea--in other words, awareness of the private accounts idea appears to promote opposition to it. Perhaps most disheartening of all for the Bush administration, the "awareness breeds opposition" dynamic appears to be strongest among the 18-29 year old cohort they are counting on to push Social Security privatization forward--opposition to private accounts is 26 points higher among 18-29 year olds who have "heard a lot" about the idea, than among those who have heard little or nothing.

And did I mention that 18-29 year olds oppose allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, 54-33, according to this same poll? If Bush is counting on young voters to pull him out of his current slide, he'd better think again.