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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Unpopular from Coast to Coast (Continued)

Yesterday, I reviewed several recent polls that show how public opinion is turning against Bush and, particularly, his proposal to privatize Social Security. Bad as these polls are for Bush, perhaps the bleakest news for him is in the just-released CBS News/New York Times poll. Here are the key findings:
1. Bush’s overall approval rating is 49 percent, his rating on Iraq is 45 percent and his rating on foreign policy is 44 percent. Bad, but par for the course for Bush these days. More startling, this poll has his approval rating on the economy down to 38 percent, with 54 percent disapproval. That’s only a couple of points above his worst rating in this poll, indicating that the public may be losing patience with the continued failure of the Bush recovery to generate robust growth. And Bush’s approval rating on the federal budget deficit is a miserable 29 percent, with 60 percent disapproval.
2. The poll asked respondents whether they thought Bush had the same or different priorities as most Americans on two different types of issues. On foreign policy issues, 58 percent thought he had different priorities and only 37 percent thought he had the same priorities. And on domestic issues, the verdict was a substantially more negative 63 percent different/31 percent same. And we are supposed to believe that Bush is somehow in tune with the American people, even if his party is not? Not by the evidence of this poll.
3. Slightly more people say they are uneasy with Bush’s ability to handle an international crisis than say they are confident (51-47)–hardly a ringing endorsement. But that looks robust compared to 63 percent uneasy/31 percent confident judgement on Bush’s ability to make the right decisions on Social Security.
4. On abortion and legal recognition of gay or same sex couples, people say the Democrats are closer to their views than the Republicans by margins of 5-10 points. And Democrats are favored by 17 points (48-31) as the party more likely to make the right decisions about Social Security.
5. The poll asked:

Some people have suggested allowing individuals to invest portions of their Social Security taxes on their own, which might allow them to make more money for their retirement, but would involve greater risk. Do you think allowing individuals to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes on their own is a good idea or a bad idea?

That wording returned a 51 percent bad idea/43 percent good idea judgement–the most negative response yet on this question, which was first asked in May, 2000. Moreover, consistent with other recent polls, the question has been following a downward trajectory as Bush has pushed his privatization proposal to the fore.
Followup questions reduce the number saying individual accounts are a good idea to 22 percent, if guaranteed benefits are cut, and to 17 percent, if the accounts would increase the federal budget deficit.
6. The public overwhelmingly believes individual accounts would not have a positive impact on Social Security’s financial situation. Only 19 percent believe such accounts would make Social Security’s financial situation better, while 69 percent believe it would either make it worse (45 percent) or have no impact (24 percent).
7. Currently, 50 percent believe the US should have stayed out of Iraq, compared to 46 percent who believe the US did the right thing in taking military action. That’s only the second time the “stay out” figure has broken 50 percent–more evidence that the failure of the Iraqi elections to substantially change the facts on the ground in Iraq is feeding into a jaundiced view of the US intervention. And people are actually less convinced now than they were before the November election that Bush has a clear plan for dealing with the Iraq situation (71 percent now believe he doesn’t, while only 21 percent believe he does).
8. Bush is continuing his long-term work of alienating the political center. That didn’t quite kill him in 2004, but this trend can’t be good for the GOP’s future prospects and the hopes they harbor of creating a new political majority.
In this poll, Bush’s overall approval rating among independents is 42 percent. Among the same group, his rating on Iraq is 42 percent, on foreign policy, 40 percent, on the economy, 33 percent and on the federal budget deficit, 23 percent.
And on Social Security, it is extraordinary how close the views of Democrats and independents are on most key issues and how far apart both are from Republicans. Bush is completely losing the battle for the middle on this one.
For example, independents reject private accounts by 56-37, fairly close to the 63-31 opposition among Democrats. But Republicans support them by 65-28, a huge gap. Similarly, just 14 percent of independents and of Democrats think individual accounts would be a good idea, even if guaranteed benefits were cut, while almost three times as many Republicans (40 percent) think so.
While Bush did just manage to squeak by in 2004, despite the many ways he alienated the political center, he and his party are likely to pay a considerable price for this approach as the Social Security struggle unfolds and we move toward 2006 and 2008.