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Three Strikes and You're Out?

It's early days in Bush's second term but it is amazing how poorly things are going for him in several important areas.

1. Social Security. The more Bush has pushed his privatization proposal, the less the public seems to like the proposal and the more it seems to dislike Bush's whole approach to the Social Security issue. Indeed, subgroups of the public that actually support Bush's plan are now few and far between. According to a recent memo by Celinda Lake, Daniel Gotoff and Erica Prosser, based on a March "Battleground" poll:

[W]hile voters believe that some level of change needs to be made to protect Social Security, a majority opposes private accounts—no matter how they are described. When asked about the privatization of Social Security 60 percent of voters say they oppose the plan with less than one-third saying they support the plan (32 percent support and 9 percent are unsure). Even when the administration’s preferred terminology is used (‘Personal Retirement Accounts’), a majority of voters (53 percent) still opposes the plan. Just 37 percent support it and 10 percent are unsure.

Consensus is broad. Voters across the country are opposed to privatizing Social Security. Regionally, this includes majorities of voters in the Northeast (72 percent), Midwest (70 percent), Central Plains (52 percent), the West (67 percent), and even in the Republican stronghold of the South (52 percent). In states that Kerry won in 2004 by over 55 percent an overwhelming majority oppose privatization (77 percent). This is also true in the battleground states (62 percent)1. In fact, even in the states that Bush won by 55 percent or more a plurality of voters opposes privatization (46 percent to 41 percent).

Opposition to privatization is stronger among women (64 percent oppose), however a majority of men (54 percent) opposes it as well. Contrary to conventional wisdom, majorities of all age groups also oppose the plan, including notably younger voters. Seniors are the most strongly opposed (61 percent of those 65 and older), followed by pre-retirement voters (59 percent of those 45-64), those 35 to 44 (56 percent oppose), and the youngest voters (57 percent of those 18 to 34 oppose the plan). A majority of voters across races is also opposed to the plan, with minority voters being the most opposed. Fully 79 percent of African Americans and 71 percent of Hispanics oppose privatization, compared to 56 percent of white voters. Also a whopping 73 percent of unmarried women oppose privatization. There is a noticeable marriage gap, both a majority of married (54 percent) and unmarried (72 percent) voters oppose

Not surprisingly, Republicans are one of the few groups of voters that support the President’s plan (63 percent support, 23 percent oppose). But the plan is a clear loser among independents (66 percent oppose) and Democrats (92 percent oppose)....

Majority opposition to privatization also holds constant across education levels, religion, and community type (urban, suburban, and rural voters). This issue may have the ability to create a wedge in the Republicans coalition. Born-again evangelicals oppose privatization 55 percent to 37 percent in favor and split on the Presidents’ plan (42 percent oppose, 47 percent in favor). Among white evangelical Christians 39 percent oppose the President’s plan and 49 percent oppose privatization. In other work we have done, we have found born-again Christians disproportionately dependent on Social Security for their retirement.

2. Terri Schiavo case. Bush intervened in the case in a high-profile way to prevent Terri Schiavo's feeding tube from being removed. The public strongly rejected what he was trying to do (prevent Schiavo's feeding tube from being removed) and how he was trying to do it (using the power of the federal government to change the disposition of the case). For a clear summary of the unambiguous public opinion record on this issue, see this Gallup report, "The Terri Schiavo Case in Review".

3. The economy. The most recent jobs report is anemic (110,000 jobs created in March, the weakest report in eight months), concern about gas prices is spiking and consumers are more pessimistic about the direction of the economy than at any time since just prior to the beginning of the Iraq war. And, as this report from the Economic Policy Institute shows, declining real wages are now the norm for the economy.

So far, not so good. A recent Gallup report pointed out that Bush's 45 percent approval rating in their last poll was by far the worst recorded March approval rating for a president after his re-election year. If Bush keeps striking out like this, there's every reason to believe it could sink still lower.