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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Independent Voters and the Bush Presidency

Gallup has put out an interesting new analysis discussing the high levels of partisan polarization in views of Bush. In the most recent Gallup poll, 89 percent of Republicans approve of the job Bush is doing as president, compared to just 12 percent of Democrats who approve. That 77 point gap is the highest of Bush’s presidency.
Moreover, the strength of partisan approval and disapproval is striking. Among Republicans, 64 percent strongly approve of Bush’s performance and, among Democrats, 66 percent strongly disapprove.
These are impressive figures, but for my money the most interesting data in the Gallup analysis are actually about independents. The analysis includes a chart of Bush approval by Democrat, Republican and independent which shows that, starting in early May, Bush’s approval rating among independents dropped to 40 percent and stayed there.
That drop, if not reversed, may well prove to be the death knell of Bush’s presidency. I just don’t see how Bush can pull it out if he’s only running at only 40 percent approval among independents; the close relationship between approval and voting support would imply a healthy Bush deficit among independents on election day which, in turn, would make it highly unlikely that Bush could win (keep in mind that Bush actually carried independents by 2 points in 2000 and still lost the popular vote).
Note also the structure of Bush’s approval rating among independents. His 40 percent approval rating only includes 16 percent who strongly approve of his performance. But, among the 55 percent who strongly disapprove of his performance, 41 percent strongly disapprove.
So Bush has independents fired up. Trouble for him is, it’s the wrong way: they’re fired up against him. Maybe that’s part of the reason why the Bush campaign seems to be concentrating on mobilizing their base; they’re hoping they can bring out those voters in droves and swamp the negative trend among independents.
But that’s probably not going to work either. According to figures cited by William Schneider in the National Journal, independents are following this year’s campaign with unusual intensity–not far removed, in fact, from the intensity with which Democratic and Republican partisans are following the race, which is, in turn, unusually high by historical standards.
Alas for Bush, this may turn out to be the election where everyone shows up. And, if that’s the case, it’ll be the Republican base that gets swamped, not the other way around.

10 comments on “Independent Voters and the Bush Presidency

  1. DanF on

    Why are Bush’s numbers still high among Republicans? I have two thoughts:
    1) After the “Washington 5” were indicted for the Watergate break-ins, Nixon’s approval ratings were still at 60 percent among everyone (I’m not sure what it was among Republicans, but you can bet that it was very high). It wasn’t until it became painfully obvious that the break-in was a straight-line directly connected to Nixon that his numbers began to plummet. Similarly, I think Democrats see a straight-line connecting Bush to the corruption and incompetence of his administration in everything from the war with Iraq, to our struggling economy, to environmental degradation (or at the very least hold him responsible). Centrist Republicans have a clear disconnect.
    Why? Well, thought number 2) the right-wing media juggernaut gives them cover. They need not ever confront the realities of their president or what he has done – and neither does the president. Hannity and Limbaugh are more than capable of mounting a straw man defense against the most egregious Bush missteps and malfeasance. Additionally, the Republicans have so vilified Democrats that a core majority of Republicans would rather deal with Satan than that French looking John Kerry who lies about the severity of his combat-wounds …

  2. Thinker on

    In “Independent Voters and the Bush Presidency” (June 5, 2004) the question of turnout/participation in November is briefly mentioned:
    “Alas for Bush, this may turn out to be the election where everyone shows up. And, if that’s the case, it’ll be the Republican base that gets swamped, not the other way around.”
    But what drives turnout? What sorts of issues and poll numbers make people more rather than less likely to vote?
    Won’t Kerry have to emphasize economic populism in order to fire up his base? And isn’t his reported reluctance to speak in those terms cost him in November in terms of turnout? This, of course, was the Dukakis experience.
    If the author avoids the “Likely Voter” screen, does this mean that he is agnostic at this point about the shape of turnout come November?

  3. dchrist on

    one thing that has changed is that touch screens with no paper trail have replaced verifiable levers and ballots. What is being done to ensure that voting will be verified and ballot access will be equal for minorities and poor counties?
    some important groups working for voting fairness

  4. Alan Snipes on

    To the poster who wondered why it isn’t obvious to a lot of people that Bush is a complete moron and totally unqualified to be President , let alone anything else I give you this: Many people think about life and the world they live in in simplistic terms. Their minds are incapable of thinking anything because that requires a thought process. Allthroughout Right-Wing history their thought process is it’s the Communists fault, its the fault of liberals, its the fault of big government etc. Being a citizen in a democracy REQUIRES that people pay attention. Many people do not WANT to think therefore “ALL POLITICIANS ARE CROOKS” is easier than thinking about the real differences between the two major political parties. That’s why liberals have problems, most of their issues are not easily boiled down to simplistic phrases like everything will be fine if we just get the government off our backs, etc.

  5. Matt McIrvin on

    Or it may indicate that (3) if you have enough Gallup numbers to look at, you are bound to find some striking but meaningless chance correlations that hold over several elections.
    The correlation is interesting, and it could indicate something like a causal relation. But “incumbent job approval among independents in May of an election year with an incumbent running for reelection” does have the air of those surreallistically overspecified stats that baseball announcers like to report: balls thrown against left-handed hitters in the bottom of the eighth, etc.

  6. Doofus on

    That’s a very interesting analysis, PhillyGuy. Also very encouraging. I’m wondering, though, if there might be a new independent variable this year in the extent to which Bush/Cheney is spending its massive war chest on overwhelmingly negative ads. An analysis by the Washington Post a week or two ago showed that, while about 25% of the Kerry campaign’s ads so far have been negative, an amazing 75% of Bush/Cheney’s have been. And they are running these ads in the key battleground states where they can do the most harm. (This doesn’t even take into account the Rove-inspired dirty tricks and election fraud that also will undoubtedly be run “below the radar,” a la South Carolina and Florida in 2000.) Bush/Cheney spokesmen have said, off the record, that their objective is to define Kerry and create enough doubts among undecided voters that — come November — they’ll hesitate to pull the lever for Kerry. My point here is simply that the independent-voter paradigm this year may not follow history, because never has so much money been spent to tear down smear an opposing presidential candidate, rather than build up the spending candidate. Let’s hope that this is not the case.

  7. PhillyGuy on

    The most intriguing and beautiful aspect of Gallup’s data is the extent to which the incumbent’s May approval rating among independent voters so closely reflects his eventual popular vote in November:
    Year, Incumbent, May Independent Approval, Popular Vote
    1996, Clinton, 47, 49.23
    1992, Bush, 34, 37.45
    1984, Reagan, 58, 58.77
    1980, Carter, 36, 41.01
    1976, Ford, 51, 48.02
    1972, Nixon, 63, 60.67
    The average differential between the May approval rate among independents and the popular vote share in November is only 2.8%. In other words, if recent electoral history is any indicator, Bush can count on a popular vote share of between 37.2 and 42.8 percent.
    Interestingly, the person who did best in the popular vote compared to his May rating among independents was Jimmy Carter, who’s vote total was 5.01% better than his May rating. Even if Bush were to do as well as Carter, he’d still only end up with 45.01% of the vote. Let us pray…
    I think the similarity between May independent approval rating and November popular vote tells us two things: 1) attitudes toward the incumbent have largely hardened by May of his election year; and 2) independent voters truly are the critical key to a presidential election since Republicans and Democrats tend to be loyal to their candidate–if independents dislike you, you’re in big trouble. Bush is in big trouble.

  8. SSJPabs on

    2 points:
    1) But, among the 55 percent who strongly disapprove of his performance, 41 percent strongly disapprove.
    Um. Shouldn’t it read: …among the 55 percent who disapprove of his performance, 41 percent strongly disapprove
    2) Re: Republican streadfastness. Let me paraphrase Robert Jordan here: “As a deer will freeze when it sees a boulder rushing down a mountainside…” I think that’s why. Deer in the headlights.

  9. joe kelly on

    How precisely could the Republicans “paper over” the fact that the very people they need most to win, hate their guts?
    What *I’m* confused by is how nearly 90% of Republicans could possibly continue to support this president and his administration. I suspect that they are simply not paying any attention, and won’t until later in the campaign.
    Of course, I include “watches nothing but Fox News” as functionally equivalent to “not paying attention”.
    The good thing about this is that at about the same time they really start paying attention, so will the vast majority of Democrats and Independents. And there’s a lot more Democrats and Independents than there are Republicans.

  10. beerwulf on

    And it’s darn nice of us to point out their weaknesses while they still have time to paper them over, isn’t it?


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