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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Now That You Mention It, I’m Starting To Have My Doubts About This Bush Guy….

On Saturday, DR reviewed some new public opinion data that suggested the public is starting to sour on President Bush, including their sense of personal trust in, and favorability toward, Bush, which is key to his political support. 
Today, DR is pleased to report that additional data released over the weekend by CNN/Time confirm this trend.  In the CNN/Time poll, respondents were asked: “Do you think George W. Bush is a leader you can trust or do you have some doubts and reservations?”  At this point, more say they have doubts and reservations (51 percent) than say he’s a leader they can trust (47 percent).  That’s a 19 point swing against Bush since the end of March, when the public said they trusted Bush by a 15 point margin (56 percent to 41 percent).  And it’s a 30 point swing against Bush since late January, 2002 when the public said they trusted him by a 26 point margin (62 percent to 36 percent).  In fact, Bush’s status on this trust question today is basically the same as it was in May, 2001, before September 11th happened and the Bush presidency was suddenly transformed. 
And wait, there’s more!  The poll has Bush’s approval rating at just 55 percent, a decline of 8 points since late May.  And his approval rating among swing-voting independents is down to 50 percent with 44 percent disapproval.  In terms of specific areas, only 55 percent now he’s doing a good job handling the situation in Iraq, sharply down from 69 percent in late May.  And his ratings on most domestic issues have become not just low, but more negative than positive.  On handling the economy, 52 percent say he’s doing a poor job, compared with 42 percent who say he’s doing a good job.  On handling unemployment, it’s 54 percent poor/36 percent good; on handling the budget deficit, it’s 52 percent poor/36 percent good; on handling health care, it’s 47 percent poor/42 percent good; and on Medicare, it’s 42 percent poor/40 percent good. 
The one domestic exception is education, where 51 percent say he’s doing a good job—hardly overwhelming, but considerably higher than the 37 percent who say he’s doing a poor job.  In DR’s view, this number represents a missed opportunity for the Democrats.  Given the havoc that state budget cutbacks are playing with education funding and Bush’s refusal to do anything more for public education other than to legislate tough standards (despite the promises that he made during the 2000 campaign and accompanying the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act), there is a devastating case to be made against his record in this area.  But Democrats in general and Democratic Presidential candidates in particular have been unaccountably reluctant to put much emphasis on the education issue.  DR suggests they wake up and start wheeling out the heavy artillery on this one.
On Iraq, the poll makes clear that the public’s view of the Iraq campaign and its aftermath is becoming more jaundiced by the day.  In late March, 52 percent described the military campaign as successful (as opposed to unsuccessful or somewhere in between); that number is now down to 39 percent.  More than two-fifths (41 percent) now believe Bush deliberately misled the public about Iraq having nuclear materials in order to gain support for the war.  And, critically, the public is now about evenly split about whether the war in Iraq was worth the toll taken in American lives and other costs (49 percent say it was; 45 percent say it wasn’t).  That’s down from a 26 point margin (59 percent to 33 percent) in favor of the war being worth the costs in late March. 
And the public is not optimistic about how things are likely to evolve in Iraq.  They overwhelmingly believe (67 percent) that either attacks will continue at their current level (42 percent) or actually increase (25 percent).  Just 27 percent believe the attacks will eventually stop.
And, oh, the public did not take it kindly when Bush taunted the Iraqi opposition with his “Bring ‘em on” statement.  By 55 percent to 36 percent, they thought this particular Bushism was a bad idea. 
Pretty soon they may conclude the whole Bush presidency was a bad idea.  In fact, that sentiment is becoming more and more common already.  The poll shows just 50 percent saying they would be very or somewhat likely to vote to re-elect Bush, compared to 46 percent who say they would be very or somewhat unlikely to vote for him.  Intriguingly, the number (36 percent) who say they would be very unlikely to vote for him is actually higher than the number (33 percent) who say they would be very likely to support him.
The supposedly invulnerable Bush is starting to look distinctly vulnerable.  And that brings a smile to this donkey’s face.