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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Unpopular from Coast to Coast

There’s been a rather remarkable string of polling data in the last week or so detailing how public opinion is turning against Bush and, particularly, his proposal to privatize Social Security. A second term that was to have been turbocharged by the Iraq elections and his grandiloquent inauguration and State of the Union speeches seems to have gone sour more quickly than his opponents dared hope.
A Zogby poll released on February 27 included the following dreadful job approval numbers for Bush: 46 percent overall; 44 percent on taxes; 40 percent on foreign policy; 39 percent on the Iraq war; 37 percent on jobs/economy; 37 percent on education; and 32 percent on the environment. He only cracks 50 percent on one issue: the war on terror (54 percent). In addition, this poll found only 39 percent saying the Iraq war was worth the cost, compared to 54 percent who say it wasn’t worth the cost.
Then there was the NPR poll that I wrote about in my February 28 post. In that poll, voters said they opposed Bush’s “proposed changes to Social Security” 53-30, bad enough on the face of it. But subsequently-released charts of the poll data make the situation seem even more dire for Bush.
To begin with, the more familiar people were with Bush’s Social Security plan, the more likely they were to say they opposed it, including 64-31 opposition among those who were “very familiar”. Even worse, voters living in counties carried by Bush in ’04 actually said they opposed his plan 49-34. And changing the wording of the question to Republican-leaning language resulted only in a split 45-45 verdict among Bush county voters, while Democratic-leaning language elicited solid 53-39 opposition among these same voters.
That suggests just how difficult the situation is getting for Bush on this particular issue. That difficult situation is underscored by the latest Pew Research Center poll, which also documents considerable slippage for Bush in other areas. Here’s the lead of Pew’s report on the poll:

President George W. Bush is losing ground with the public in his efforts to build support for private retirement accounts in Social Security. Despite Bush’s intensive campaign to promote the idea, the percentage of Americans who say they favor private accounts has tumbled to 46% in Pew’s latest nationwide survey, down from 54% in December and 58% in September. Support has declined as the public has become increasingly aware of the president’s plan. More than four-in-ten (43%) say they have heard a lot about the proposal, nearly double the number who said that in December (23%).
The new poll indicates that the Social Security debate is packing a powerful political punch. It finds that just 29% of Americans approve of the way that Bush is handling the issue. This is the president’s lowest approval rating for any policy area, and is considerably lower than his overall job approval rating of 46%. Moreover, by a 65%-25% margin, most say the president has not explained his Social Security proposal clearly enough.
Further, the public expresses much more confidence on this issue in the AARP, which is strongly opposed to private accounts, than they do in the president or in Republican congressional leaders.

Ouch! That’s gotta hurt down at the White House and RNC headquarters. It looks like Bush’s efforts on Social Security are only succeeding in diminishing support for his own proposal and lowering his approval rating in that area. Not only that, his unsuccessful efforts are probably helping drag down all his other ratings besides. Confirming the pattern seen in the Zogby poll, only his approval rating on “terrorist threats” (59 percent) cracks 50 percent, while every other job rating in a specific area is 44 percent or less: education (44 percent); foreign policy (43 percent); economy (43 percent); environment (42 percent); budget deficit (41 percent); Iraq situation (40 percent); health care (36 percent); and, of course, that abysmal 29 percent (22 percent among independents), with 55 percent disapproval, on Social Security.
More on “Unpopular from Coast to Coast” tomorrow…