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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Yes, Bad News Does Hurt Bush

We can now safely disregard the theory that bad news somehow doesn’t hurt Bush politically. He may be able to delay or slightly mitigate that harm but, as common sense would suggest, he cannot escape it.
Consider the results of the just-released CBS News/New York Times poll, conducted April 23-27. Bush’s approval rating is down to 46 percent approve/47 percent disapprove (40/47 among independents), the lowest of his presidency and the first net negative rating in this poll. Bush’s approval rating on foreign policy is now 40/51 (36/52 among independents), also the lowest of his presidency, as is his rating on Iraq at 41/52 (independents: 37/53). And his rating on the economy remains below 40 at 39/54 (36/57 among independents).
Those are some mighty bad numbers. Only his rating on “handling the campaign against terrorism” remains fairly strong at 60/34, but even here that is is the second lowest of his presidency.
As for right direction/wrong track, his performance is even more dismal in this poll than in the Democracy Corps poll discussed yesterday. Only 36 percent say the country is going in the right direction, compared to 55 percent who say it’s gotten seriously off on the wrong track (and that’s 30/59–almost 2:1 wrong track!–among independents).
The poll also indicates that Kerry now has a small 2 point lead among RVs in the head-to-head horse race (46-44). So much for Bush’s mid-April mini-surge. And Kerry’s ahead by 4 points among independents.
Speaking of the direction things are going, I didn’t get a chance to cite these results from the DCorps poll yesterday, but they’re worth considering. DCorps asked about a wide range of issues and whether the country should continue in Bush’s direction or go in a significantly different direction. Except for the war on terrorism, where voters favor the Bush direction, voters favor a significantly different direction than Bush’s in every area: the federal budget; health care; jobs; prescription drug coverage for seniors; the economy; middle class living standards; taxes; foreign policy; Iraq; and education. Apparently there are a lot of time-for-a-change voters out there.
But the worst news for Bush is the extent to which public support for the Iraq war is declining. How about the key question of whether the war a mistake or not, an indicator I’ve discussed several times lately? In the CBS News poll, the public says yes, 48-46 (49-44 among independents). Last April, sentiment was overwhelming (70-24) that the war was not a mistake.
On a closely-related question, whether the US “did the right thing” in taking military action against Iraq or should have stayed out, the public is now almost evenly-split (47 right thing/46 stayed out; independents are 44/47). Just four months ago, it was 64 right thing/28 stayed out.
On whether the result of the war was worth the loss of life and other costs, the public now believes, by 25 points, that the result wasn’t worth the cost (58-33; 61-31 among independents). And on whether Iraq was a threat that required immediate military action, we are now down to only one-third who believe that immediate action was necessary, compared to about two-thirds who believe the Iraq threat either could have been contained or was not a threat at all. No wonder people now believe, by 61-34, that the Bush administration was too quick to get American military forces involved, rather than that the administration tried hard enough to reach a diplomatic solution.
Next they’ll be saying the Bush administration didn’t make the decision to invade Iraq when they said they did–in March, 2003–but rather before that. In fact, that’s exactly what they say, by 68-23, even when explicitly informed that the Bush administration claims they made that decision in March. In other words, the public overwhelmingly believes they’re lying about that.
Ah, but the public doesn’t really care, right, because they are convinced the Bush administration has made them safer. Not really. Less than half (49 percent) now believe Bush administration policies have made then safer from terrorism, compared to 46 percent who believe either these policies have made them less safe (25 percent) or had no effect (21 percent). Among independents, it’s actually a majority sentiment (51-44) that Bush administration policies have not made the US safer from terrorism. And note this: in mid-January of this year, the public believed overwhelmingly, by 68-29, that Bush administration policies were making them safer. There’s something going on here and it’s all bad for Bush and his re-election bid.
And if people are now unsure whether Bush administration policies overall have actually made them safer from terrorism, they are very clear that the war in Iraq has not had that effect. By 4:1 (80/18), the public believes the Iraq war has either increased the threat of terrorism or kept it about the same, rather than decreased that threat.
What does the public want to do now about Iraq? They’re not quite sure. While four months ago they believed by 21 points (56-35) that the US should stay in Iraq as long as necessary to establish a stable democracy, rather than leave as soon as possible, now they are split right down the middle on this (46-46).
Iraq may not be “another Vietnam”, in substantive terms. But sentiment about Iraq is starting to look more and more like sentiment about Vietnam. And if you’re running for re-election, that ain’t good.

19 comments on “Yes, Bad News Does Hurt Bush

  1. bt on

    Interesting that George Will in his column today recommends moving from a neoconservative to a merely conservative foreign policy. He sees, at last, that the current policymakers who subscribe to the neoconservative outlook are ideologues (hmmm…could that also be the case in other areas of Bush Administration policymaking?) impervious to evidence requiring at the very least major adjustments in their thinking.
    The column begins on a strange tangent on race. And it’s unclear to me just what the “conservative” foreign policy is, as distinct from the “neoconservative” foreign policy–whether, for example, it is any more defined than the Kerry foreign policy approach he no doubt will continue to bash.
    No mas. When even George Will recognizes we are not in Kansas that is a win for us.

  2. rick freedman on

    I’ve posted an analysis of the current Bush paralysis, and how it reflects some larger problems on the right. Conservatives have made the error of substituting argument for policy, and that hubris has landed us in the situation in which we find ourselves. Please take a look at:
    World on Fire

  3. bt on

    Bush leaners who identify the great job they see the Administration doing in the fight against al qaeda as a reason to vote for him should be shown a two-page article in the most recent (June) issue of The Atlantic Monthly called “Al Qaeda Resurgence”, by Terrence Henry.
    Unfortunately the article is not (at least not yet) available at The Atlantic Monthly’s online site.

  4. bt on

    Keith, I wish I shared your sense that Bush is headed to lose this election. I don’t think we’re in a bad place right now but I also am unable to discern the argument–or maybe it’s just that I’m not buying it at this point–for a comfortable Kerry win at this point. A lot of the recent posts seem to be in either the “we’re toast” or the “we’re in” camps.
    Of late there are panels of political scientists projecting an easy Bush win. The major print media view at this time seems to be that Kerry is struggling of late. And we’re looking at strong Q3 job growth. I wish Kerry had not taken the bait from Cheney re the medals vs. ribbons; presidential candidates rarely look good when they get down in the muck to that extent. So long as he has nothing new to say to distinguish his position from Bush’s on Iraq I don’t see why he should devote much of his national security/foreign policy speechmaking and other self-initiated remarks to that issue. Of course he is going to be asked about it and of course he needs to speak about it. But right now given his stance on it I’d say he is likely to make more headway on a range of other issues (both foreign and domestic policy) which can enhance his standing.
    So…I conclude it’s another good time to take another deep breath and a step back. It’s a long, long way to November. Major issues are in flux and likely to play themselves out in ways that cannot be foreseen now, which offers both opportunities and challenges for our guy to start clicking on all cylinders, as he did late in the primary season. He’s done absolutely nothing to fatally damage himself and any of the pundits who say he has are wrong.
    The Democratic convention will provide him with a moment when he can project himself as he wants to, to the interested electorate, undistorted until the chattering classes resume telling us what we’re supposed to think about him. He has time to find and settle into a more effective rhythm. Those of us here who sound as though we’re sometimes borderline grousing about how it’s going are going to continue to find ways to help him in our conversations with persuadables.
    Our side’s biggest self-imposed impediments are fatalism and pessimism. But only if we allow them to be. In 2004, Republicans are more given to strutting (especially when they can’t afford to, which helps us), Democrats to worrying. Which is one reason why I find Ruy such a breath of fresh air.

  5. Keith M Ellis on

    What saddens me is that for the most part, this is all pretty arbitrary. I think it’s possible that the occupation could have gone more successfully, and there’s good reason to believe that some of the lingering problems voters will have with the economy will ease in 2005. These are the two issues that are going to lose Bush the election–and it just as easily could have gone the other way.
    My concern is that it’s only clear from examining the entire history of this administration that it’s been disastrous, perhaps criminally; and these two hot-button issues–while each emblematic of the Bush admin’s failures–could have gone (enough) the other way and voter satisfaction with Bush could be much higher. That frightens and saddens me.
    But I’m not going to look a gift-horse in the mouth.
    Well, I should also say that it really wouldn’t have taken much for the admin to have handled these two issues more to the voters’ satisfaction. The fact that they so arrogantly and cluelessly didn’t is, I suppose, sufficient indication of Bush’s unworthiness to lead.

  6. Joe Zainea on

    Yesterday I wrote here that Nader was polling 12% in Oregon. I was wrong. According to the Rasmussen Poll he’s polling 8%; which is still a scary number.

  7. Peter on

    Many Arab-Americans adore Nader, and others are increasingly supportive of Bush and giving him hundreds of thousands of dollars, sadly.
    I think the poll is good news but the media ignored it, while they went to town on the more positive Bush polls from earlier this month. They are the ones who are helping keep Bush so popular.
    Apparently a bunch of political scientists had a forum recently and all but 1 agreed Bush had an easy win. Sad.

  8. Alan on

    I just noticed another piece of good news from four Battleground States. Pollster John Zogby polled Arab Americans in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. He says Bush carried the Arab American vote in 2000 by 46-29. In his recent poll Kerry leads Bush 49-30 among Arab Americans. He reports that there are approximately 235,000 Arab voters in Michigan, 75,000 in Pennsylvania, 120,000 in Florida and I think 60,000 in Ohio. These results if true will solidify the Democratic votes in the states President Gore carried (Michigan, Pennsylvania)-I know Florida too, and helps in Ohio.

  9. JW on

    I agree with Eric that people who supported the war need a way to rationalize it. Kerry actually spelled it out for me at least. I believe going to war was the right thing to do, but that Bush did it in the wrong way. If only Kerry can find another way of saying this to have more of an immediate resonance. As I see it, after the statue of Saddam was toppled, the U.S. had a very short window of opportunity to maintain order and start the business of reconstruction. Not having nearly enough troops on the ground, ignoring the reconstruction plans done by the State Department, not having enough funds readily available have turned this opportunity into a disaster. If I were Kerry, I’d keep hammering away at Bush for being arrogant and narrow-minded. I think arrogance might be the emotional equivalent of flip-flopper.

  10. eric on

    A possible reason there is a lag between Iraq obviously imploding and Bush’s support dwindling is that people hate to admit they’re wrong. Registered voters for the most part made up their minds a long time back if they were for or against the war. People have to slowly find a way to rationalize their former positions. I know. I supported the war even though I am a staunch Democrat. I was wrong and I hate admitting that. I hang my hat on the fact that I conditioned my support on UN approval. I know now, that was silly. Even with UN support this would have been a disaster.

  11. soup on

    Nader polling at 12% in OR? Hah!
    So how come he couldn’t even get on the ballot there? Let me disabuse you of this notion that Nader is any kind of threat. At this point many people will say they support Nader in opinion polls. There are many Dems who are less than satisfied with the Kerry choice (which is fair) and Nader is one way to express that. But come November there is no way they will throw their vote to Nader, fugheddaboudit.

  12. Publius on

    Nader is NOT polling 12% in Oregon.
    Here at ELF Central (Eugene, that is), you’d expect Nader to be getting his best marks in the state. Not only hasn’t there been a peep about him here, but no one is even trying to get signatures to put him on the ballot. And if it ain’t happening in Eugene, it ain’t happening anywhere in Oregon.
    The usual suspects who don’t want to vote if the Democrat isn’t green enough for them are still flocking over Kucinich.
    Another Oregon Nader story: in 2000, he was doing well here. As it got into October and it became apparent how close the race was, many concerned liberals made the following decision: On the Pacific coast, we have the luxury of watching early returns for almost 3 hours before the polls close. Therefore, we would watch before voting. If the east coast and midwest showed a landslide for either major party candidate, we would do the protest vote, because it didn’t matter. If it looked like Gore might NEED Oregon’s 7 electoral votes to become President, we would vote Gore. The polling drop-off place was REALLY crowded at 15 minutes before closing on election night, and there were several local races that looked Republican at first, but which ended up Democrat victories due to those late ballots.
    I and several friends were among those who waited till the east coast returns. I wanted to protest-vote, but didn’t because it was so close. This year my friends and I aren’t even thinking about it. It’s Kerry, Kerry, Kerry all the way! And it does not look like we’re alone in rejecting Ralph.

  13. Ron Thompson on

    The website 2.004k.com/latest has results of 18 different state or national polls conducted in the last two weeks. Seventeen of them have Bush at 47% or lower. There is one ridiculous outlier, the Badger poll here in Wisconsin, which has him at 50%, but right underneath it are two more respectable Wisconsin polls which have him at 41 and 40, and Kerry at 45 and 46.
    Who could have expected this a year ago tomorrow, the date of the Top Gun stunt, and 6 months after the mid-term election? Nor has the downward trend abated, despite the $50 Million they’ve spent on advertising since Kerry wrapped up the nomination two months ago. Obviously, there’s a lot of work ahead in the next 6 months, but take a minute to appreciate how far Bush has fallen, and the unlikelihood that he can retrieve his losses.

  14. Joe Zainea on

    Ruy: Nader is still polling at 5%. He’s the difference in FL and PA. In Oregon he’s polling at 12%!
    As support for the war continues to dwindle and Americans conclude its time to get out, Nader’s message wil resonate even more because he has urged withdrawal from the beginning. If present trends continue, and Nader gets on the ballot in even some of the swing states, we’re going to have a real problem again.
    Its time for Kerry to hammer Nader as one who has no plan for keeping Americans safe…..just like Bush. Being defferential to Nader didn’t work in 2k and it won’t work this time either.

  15. Stephen Dulaney on

    What poll questions should I track to understand how people think Bush makes decisions and how that effects their likely vote? The fact that he did not ask his three key advisors for their advise on going to war with Iraq is troubling to me. He did not ask Bush SR. He did not ask Collen Powell and now we learn he did not ask Don Rumsfield. Is this likely to show up in some of these questions? If so which ones?
    Thanks for the nice work. I enjoy your analysis and point by point articulation of how you see and read the numbers as they become available. This is one way I see the Internet changing the way I follow elections.
    thanks man

  16. howard on

    Ruy, another indicator that i find interesting is that, if the public approves of Bush at 60% on terrorism, and Bush calls Iraq the central front on the war on terrorism, and the public approves of Bush at 41% on Iraq…then how much support is really left for Bush on terrorism?

  17. Sara on

    Yea, Kerry’s speech in Philly yesterday was on Homeland Security matters, and he specifically laid into the Administration regarding policy for Chemical Industries (many in the Philly Region.) Bush has a one size fits all policy — whatever security is, it must be voluntary. The Government should never apply any regulation or restriction — but if the worst happens, or course, the Govermnent would assume costs of damages.
    Kerry lit into this — talked about unfenced plant and storage areas, about lack of security personnel and training for them, about no plans for cooperation between state and local first responders and taxic industries, about no monitors on toxic sites — just a whole maze of stuff — plus he ridiculed the idea of a voluntary program.
    It was a hard tough speech — clear as it could be, it was a strong attack speech.
    I have a feeling that some folk here are not listening to the news.
    As to that new CBS/NYT poll — Yes, I like the direction of things. This is when I really miss Prof. PollKatz’s little graphs — it seems to me that Bush drops a notch, and then plateaus, and then another notch, and then another little rest break. The graphs were so good at making this evident at a glance.
    But what are we going to do about faith in Bush’s Terrorism Management skills? For the country to likely be more safe after next November, we need to figure how to drop that “faith” by about 15 points or more.

  18. Marcus Lindroos on

    Good point. Note that Kerry *does* keep complaining about homeland security all the time, e.g. yesterday he was carping about nuclear powerplant security.
    I think his homeland strategy is a potential winner, for sure. This Administration has some really weird spending priorities to explain when it comes to “homeland defense.” E.g. who really needs antiballistic missile defense against North Korea at this stage, or the presence of 150,000 troops in Iraq? Those two blunders cost American taxpayers $300 billion alone — money which would be better spent on beefing up airport, harbor etc. security.
    Frankly, without the Iraq blunder, I would be much more pessimistic about Kerry’s chances in November. This decision now looks like a MONUMENTAL SCREW-UP by the Bushies, particularly since the economy probably would be slightly stronger now without all the war related insecurity in 2003.

  19. Russell Johnson on

    ——-“Time to Go for the Jugular!”——-
    …”I can’t believe you guys!” he practically shouted. “Bush is screwing up big time in so many areas — the 9/11 coverup, the Iraq War, Israel and the Palestinians, the Plame case, the environment, health care, education, the economy, tax rates, and on an on — and your Dem friends simply watch in horror, with their mouths wide open, and don’t react with any real passion.
    …”If the Democrats have any sense, they will start talking now about the terrorism that is likely to happen this Summer or Fall, reminding voters of how incompetent the Bush Administration was before and has been since 9/11, and how their reckless policies in Iraq and the Middle East have made us more vulnerable to terrorism, not less. But I’m not sure your Democrats are smart enough to think along those lines, or have the guts to take on Bush directly on these issues.
    …”This is our moment. There is no other chance to take these guys down. If we don’t do it in November, it may be a generation or more before we get another reasonable shot. Kerry and the Dems may understand that on an intellectual level, but they need to translate that into unrelenting, tough, street-smart, go-for-the-jugular campaign-activism from now until Election Day.”
    Copyright 2004, by Bernard Weiner…You’ll find the rest of the essay at:


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