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How Low Can He Go?

by Ruy Teixeira

Pretty low! The latest CBS News poll has some startling findings on the public’s view of Bush and the Bush administration, as one fiasco after another (the latest wave of violence in Iraq, the firestorm of protest against the ports for Arab Emirates deal) rocks the Bush presidency.

From the summary of the poll on the CBS News website:

The latest CBS News poll finds President Bush's approval rating has fallen to an all-time low of 34 percent, while pessimism about the Iraq war has risen to a new high.

Americans are also overwhelmingly opposed to the Bush-backed deal giving a Dubai-owned company operational control over six major U.S. ports. Seven in 10 Americans, including 58 percent of Republicans, say they're opposed to the agreement...

For the first time in this poll, most Americans say the president does not care much about people like themselves. Fifty-one percent now think he doesn't care, compared to 47 percent last fall.

Just 30 percent approve of how Mr. Bush is handling the Iraq war, another all-time low.

By two to one, the poll finds Americans think U.S. efforts to bring stability to Iraq are going badly – the worst assessment yet of progress in Iraq.

Even on fighting terrorism, which has long been a strong suit for Mr. Bush, his ratings dropped lower than ever. Half of Americans say they disapprove of how he's handling the war on terror, while 43 percent approve.

That’s a lot of all-time lows!

Here are a few other findings from the poll worth citing:

1. On his unusually low job approval, that appears to driven by an unusually low approval rating among GOP identifiers–72 percent. If Bush’s rating among GOP identifiers doesn’t snap back up toward the 80 mark or higher, we could see more approval ratings in the range of this latest CBS News poll....or even lower.

2. Bush’s approval rating on the economy is only 32 percent, with 60 percent disapproval–apparently, Americans still haven’t gotten the “good news” on the economy. And his rating on handling the energy situation is only 27 percent, also with 60 percent disapproval.

3. Just 29 percent now think the result of the war with Iraq was worth the loss of American life and costs of attacking Iraq, compared to 63 percent who think it wasn’t. In a bit of good news for the Bush administration, this result is only tied for the most negative result ever on this question.

4. Could all this bad news be rubbing off on the conservative brand? Well, in this poll, self-identified conservatives are down to 27 percent of the public, a mere 7 points away from the 20 percent who are self-identified liberals.

But is this CBS News poll an “outlier” as they say, and therefore not to be taken seriously? Here’s the verdict from the incomparable Charles Franklin, who writes on his invaluable site, Political Arithmetik:

Among the recent polls, the CBS News poll is the lowest and is likely to be given special scrutiny. The effect of this poll on my trend estimates is about 1%-- including this latest poll would lower my trend estimate to 39% support, while excluding it makes the estimate 40%, a modest effect.

However, the CBS poll and the Cook/RT Strategies polls are also the two taken since the Dubai port issue came on the scene. Cook's approval rating for polling taken 2/23-26/06 is 40%, down sharply from Cook's 47% in late January (1/22-25). The CBS rating is down from 42% taken at almost the same time (1/20-25) as the Cook data. So while there is a gap between the two polls on the current level, both argue for a drop of 7-8% in approval since the State of the Union Address....

The results [of an outlier test] show that while the latest CBS News poll is well below the trend, it is by no means a statistical outlier. It is inside the 95% confidence interval, though only slightly. Moreover, as the graph makes obvious, there have been a large number of polls further away from the trend than this one. My conclusion is that the low approval rating of 34% is not exceptionally low, and given the average CBS "house effect" does not seem out of line with past polls....

So what is [causing the drop in approval in the CBS News poll]? A drop in support across all party groups, but especially among Republicans. In January, approval among Republicans was 83%. In February it dropped to 72%, a shocking 11% decline among the president's base. Among Independents support fell from 34% to 29% and among Democrats from 14% to 9%, in both cases less than half the percentage point decline as among Republicans. This also compares to support among Republicans which had remained above 90% into early 2005.....

....While the CBS poll is generally a couple of percentage points less favorable than the overall trend, the drop of 8% here, and the 7% decline in the Cook poll should send alarms ringing in the White House and in Republican Congressional circles. After a fairly good November and December, the Bush presidency appears once more to be slipping into the kind of poll numbers that suck all political capital out of negotiations with Congress, and that set the stage for especially difficult congressional and gubernatorial races in the fall.

There you have it. Class dismissed ‘til next week and the latest batch of polls.