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2006 Campaign Watch

by Ruy Teixeira

Data continue to pour in, suggesting just how unfavorable the political environment has become for the GOP in this election year. Here are the high points:

1. In the latest Pew Research Center poll, Bush’s approval rating is down to 33 percent, his lowest ever in a public poll, which includes ratings of just 73 percent among Republicans and 26 percent among independents.

The report provides a fascinating table showing just how much ground Bush has lost among various GOP base groups since January, 2005. This in includes approval declines of 16 points among conservative Republicans, 18 points among white evangelicals and 21 points among white men. In short, a Karl Rove nightmare.

2. The same poll shows just how profoundly Bush’s personal standing has eroded with the public. At this point, only 44 percent view Bush as a strong leader, 43 percent think he’s able to get things done, 42 percent think he cares about people like them, 40 percent think he’s trustworthy, 38 percent think he’s well-informed and 35 percent think he’s a good manager.

You’d almost think they didn’t like the guy.

Pew also does a one word description exercise on Bush which is quite interesting. One word descriptions now run 48 percent negative/28 percent positive, compared to 52 percent positive/27 percent negative in May, 2003.

Since February, 2005, when the most common one word description of Bush was “honest” (38 percent) and “incompetent” was only at 14 percent, these description have switched positions–incompetent is now at 29 percent–the most common description--and honest is at 14 percent. Other negative descriptions of Bush have also increased substantially–“idiot” (up to 21 percent) and “liar” (up to 17 percent).

Like I say, you’d almost think they didn’t like the guy.

3. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal (NBC/WSJ) poll indicates that Bush is likely to be a considerable liability to the GOP this November, that the election is becoming nationalized and that there is likely to be an enthusiasm gap that disadvantages the GOP.

On the liability issue, the poll shows that, by 37-20, voters are seeing their vote as a signal of opposition to, not support for, Bush. That compares to 31-19 the other way in October of 2002.

On the nationalization issue, by 44-40, voters now say that their representative’s position on national issues will be more important than their representative’s performance in taking care of district problems. That compares to 35 percent national/51 percent district in October of 1994, an election that was supposedly successfully nationalized by the GOP.

On the enthusiasm gap issue, here’s Charlie Cook on the NBC/WSJ results:

When Democratic pollster Peter Hart and Republican pollster Bill McInturff interviewed 893 registered voters in their March 10-13 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, they asked voters how interested they were in this November's midterm election on a scale of one to 10, with one representing not at all interested and 10 being very interested.

The result: 53 percent of Democrats chose 10, compared to only 43 percent of Republicans. And only 34 percent of independents were 10s. Only 7 percent of Democrats, and the same percentage of Republicans, chose 9, so that doesn't close the gap much.

To look at the same situation from a slightly different angle, of those who said they preferred to see Democrats in control of Congress after the November elections, 53 percent chose 10, but of those that wanted to see Republicans in control, only 38 percent chose 10.

Nobody knows what will transpire between now and November and how much intensity each party's voters will have, but as of now, Democrats have a pronounced intensity advantage and enough of one to probably outweigh the GOP organizational edge.

Given the other data reviewed above, that enthusiasm gap sounds like it’s probably got legs.