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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Has Bush Turned the Corner?

Did Bush thrill the nation with his bold proposals in last Thursday’s press conference and thereby turn around his flagging political fortunes?
Not on the evidence of the two public polls that have been released since the press conference. Consider first the results of the latest Gallup poll.
1. The poll found Bush’s overall approval rating unchanged from Gallup’s previous poll at 48 percent approval/49 percent disapproval. His rating on Social Security was also essentially unchannged at 35/58. His rating on the economy was up slightly to 43/53 and his rating on Iraq was down slightly to 42/55.
His ratings on energy policy (34/52) and gas prices (27/67) brought up the rear.
2. On Social Security, the Gallup data show that people are still not chafing at the bit for immediate action of Social Security. A majority (52 percent) feel that major changes are necessary only within ten years (36 percent) or not at all (16 percent), rather than in the next year or two (45 percent). Moreover, only 27 percent say that Congress should pass the Social Security plan this year most Republicans support, compared to 66 percent who say Congress should either pass a Democratic plan (22 percent) or not pass a plan at all this year (46 percent).
A generic question about private accounts that neither mentions Bush nor any possible tradeoffs of such accounts–thereby tending to produce a relatively positive response–nevertheless generates 52-45 opposition, worse than the 47-45 opposition in the middle of March, near the beginning of Bush’s 60 day Social Security tour.
And Bush’s specific proposal for cutting benefits for the middle and upper class, but not the poor, receives 54-38 opposition, similar to the 53-38 majority that believes Bush’s Social Security proposals will but cut, rather than protect, their Social Security benefits.
Finally, at end of Bush’s 60 day tour, the public continues to trust the Democratic party over the Republican party on the issue of Social Security retirement benefits. A 10 point gap in favor of the Democrats has not budged over that time period.
3. On Iraq, as noted below, 57 percent now believe going to war was not worth it, compared to 41 percent who believe it was. That’s the most negative response Gallup has yet received on this indicator.
4. On the filibuster issue, the public backs the the use of the filibuster in the Senate by 52-40. And they say they back the Democrats over the Republicans in the Senate by 45-36 on this issue.
The news for Bush in the new Hotline/Westhill Partners poll is, if anything, even worse.
1. Bush’s overall approval rating (48/48) is up slightly, as is his rating on Social Security (all the way to 34/56!); his rating on the economy is down slightly (to 38/57) and his rating on Iraq (41/52) is essentially unchanged.
2. On Social Security, the poll asked respondents how Bush’s proposed changes to Social Security made them feel about their financial security after retirement. Only 9 percent say they feel more secure than a year ago, compared to 39 percent who say they feel less secure and 28 percent who report no change.
I suppose that’s not quite the reaction Bush was looking for.
3. On the economy, there is some particularly bad news for Bush and the GOP. Just 9 percent think most American families are better off financially now than they were a year ago, while half–more than five times as many–believe American families are not as well off. As for their own family, only 19 percent think their family is better off today than it was a year ago, compared to 28 percent who think their family is not as well off and about half (51 percent) who think there’s been no change.
Moreover, over half (51 percent) say they will hold Bush (37 percent) or the Republicans in Congress (14 percent) responsible, rather than the Democrats (14 percent), if the economy remains shaky.
4. On the filibuster, by 53-32, voters say they disapprove of changing Senate rules to take away the filibuster and allow Bush’s judicial nominees to be voted on. And, by 46-35, voters approve of the proposed Senate Democratic slowdown if the filibuster is taken away.
Turning the corner? Sounds more like running into a brick wall to me.