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Political Capital? What Political Capital?

According to the latest Gallup poll, the "Public Mood Remains Dour". Here's the lead paragraph from their report on the poll.

The latest Gallup survey finds the public's mood little changed over the past several weeks. President George W. Bush's approval rating is at 50%, up two points from the last two measures. Satisfaction with the way things are going remains in the doldrums -- 39% of Americans are satisfied, 58% are dissatisfied. And Gallup's two basic economic questions show a still-gloomy public.

The data about economic gloom are quite striking:

Overall, 31% of Americans rate economic conditions as either excellent or good, and 25% rate them as poor. That 6-point positive gap is essentially unchanged from the 7-point gap in late April, but is much smaller than the 19-point gap in early March and the 24-point gap at the beginning of the year.

Similarly, the public economic outlook is more negative now than it was at the beginning of the year. Currently, 61% of Americans say the economy is getting worse, and 32% say better -- similar to the 61% worse and 31% better ratings in late April. But in early March, only 50% said the economy was getting worse, and 41% said better. And at the beginning of the year, more people expressed a positive than a negative rating -- with 48% expecting the economy to improve and just 42% expecting it to get worse.

An earlier Gallup poll also found that:

Americans are also clearly unhappy with the way President George W. Bush is handling gas prices. Just more than one in four approve of his handling of the issue, and two-thirds believe there are reasonable things he can do to lower gas prices, despite his assertions that there is little he can do. A majority of Americans find Bush to blame for the gas prices, but foreign countries that produce oil and U.S. oil companies are more likely to be blamed.

The April 29-May 1 poll finds 78% of Americans terming the gas prices they are currently paying as "unfair," and just 20% saying they are "fair."

Americans do not expect relief from the high prices anytime soon. In fact, a majority of Americans expect gas prices will continue to rise over the next six months. Thirty-three percent believe gas prices will stabilize, and just 9% predict they will go back down.

The latest Marist poll has Bush's approval rating even lower than Gallup's recent polls, at 47 percent approval/49 percent disapproval. The poll also finds his Iraq approval rating at 40/56, his economic approval rating at 40/46 and his approval rating on the war on terrorism at a mere 48/48--an all-time low--including a distinctly underwhelming 42/53 among independents.

Wow! What ever happened to all that legendary Bush political capital? Voters seem to be taking out their dissatisfaction directly on him these days, rather than cutting him endless slack.

William Schneider has a crisp answer in his latest column, "What Political Capital?":

The rule about political capital is, when you've got it, spend it, because you can't hold on to it. "I earned capital in this campaign, political capital," President Bush said two days after winning re-election, "and now I intend to spend it." And spend it is exactly what he is doingówith a bold agenda focused on Social Security, the Middle East, energy, judicial nominations, and the "culture of life."

But the president has a problem. His political capital is just about depleted. Bush had a huge supply of capital after 9/11. And he spent itóall of itóon Iraq. The 2004 presidential election, which he won with 51 percent of the vote, replenished only a little of his capital.

Look at what's happened to Bush's job-approval ratings, as of April: the Gallup Poll, 48 percent approval; The Washington Post/ABC News poll, 47 percent approval; and the CBS News, Associated Press, and American Research Group polls, all 44 percent. Bush's ratings have fallen since the beginning of the year in every poll. His average job-approval rating for April was 45 percent, the lowest on record for any president just three months into his second term.

Schneider concludes, after a discussion of California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's similarly falling fortunes:

Schwarzenegger and Bush both overreached, putting forth agendas that went way beyond their mandates. They have both depleted their political capital. They're now into deficit spending.

Just so. But why should we be surprised? The GOP hasn't treated the nation's capital any differently.