The public’s got those mean old pre-inauguration blues. That’s the message of four polls released over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend.
1. The first poll to be released was a Pew Research Center poll, their annual assessment of the public’s policy priorities. Here’s the lead paragraph of their report on the poll, succinctly titled “Public’s Agenda Differs from President’s“:
George W. Bush begins his second term with considerably less popular support than other recent incumbent presidents after their reelection. He also is proposing a second-term policy agenda that differs in several key respects from the public’s. Health care, aid for the poor, and the growing budget deficit are all increasingly important public priorities, while limiting lawsuit awards, making recent tax cuts permanent and tax simplification rank near the bottom of the public’s agenda.
On the public’s exceptionally weak support for Bush at the start of his second term, the report notes that their current poll has Bush at 50 percent approval, while their analagous poll in January, 1997 had Clinton at 59 percent approval. And earlier Gallup polls had Reagan at 62 percent in January, 1985, Nixon at 59 percent in December, 1972, Johnson at 71 percent in January, 1965 and Eisenhower at 73 percent in January, 1957.
On who will gain and lose influence during Bush’s second term, the public is quite pessimistic about “people like yourself”, with just 22 percent saying this group will gain influence and 34 percent saying they will lose influence. That’s down from four years ago, at the beginning of Bush’s first term, when, by 35-26, the public felt people like themselves would gain, rather than lose, influence. The public is also pessimistic about whether older people (29 percent), blacks (26 percent), poor people (20 percent), union leaders (18 percent) and environmentalists (18 percent) will gain influence during a second Bush administration. All of these figures are significantly down from where they were four years ago.
In fact, the only groups the public is more optimistic about than four years ago are Washington lobbyists (up from 35 to 40 percent in terms of gaining influence) and conservative Christians (up from 51 to 54 percent). But the groups the public is most optimistic about today are the still same two groups that topped this list in 2001: the military and business corporations.
On prospects for the economy, fewer people today than at any time since 2001 say they believe economic conditions will be better a year from now. Only 27 percent express this optimistic viewpoint, 18 percent believe they will be worse and most (52 percent) believe they will remain the same.
On Social Security, 49 percent say the system needs major changes or to be completely rebuilt. But that’s much less than the 71 percent who say the health care system has problems of this magitude or the 62 percent who have the same viewpoint about the educational system. And, while the poll finds support (54-30) for the very general idea of having private investment accounts within Social Security (the typical finding when no tradeoffs or costs are mentioned), the poll also finds overwhelming support for the priority of “keeping Social Security as a program with a guaranteed monthly benefit based on a person’s earnings during their working life” (65 percent) rather than “letting younger workers decide for themselves how some of their own contributions to Social Security are invested, which would cause their future benefits to be higher or lower depending on how well their investments perform” (29 percent).
More on “Pre-Inauguaration Blues” tomorrow, including much more on Social Security and and a great deal about Iraq.