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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Bush Losing His Strong Suit

The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll has some very bad news for Bush and the GOP–even by the standards of recent polls, most of which have not been kind to the president and his party. Here’s the lead from ABC News polling director Gary Langer’s analysis of the poll:

The corrosive effects of the war in Iraq and a growing disconnect on political priorities have pushed George W. Bush’s performance ratings — notably on terrorism — to among the worst of his career, casting a pall over his second term and potentially over his party’s prospects ahead.
For the first time, most Americans, 55 percent, say Bush has done more to divide than to unite the country. A career-high 52 percent disapprove of his job performance overall, and, in another first, a bare majority rates him unfavorably on a personal level. Most differ with him on issues ranging from the economy and Social Security to stem-cell research and nuclear power.
Iraq is a major thorn. With discontent over U.S. casualties at a new peak, a record 58 percent say the war there was not worth fighting. Nearly two-thirds think the United States has gotten bogged down in Iraq, up 11 points since March. Forty-five percent go so far as to foresee the equivalent of another Vietnam.
Fifty-two percent, the first majority to say so, think the Iraq war has failed to improve the long-term security of the United States, its fundamental rationale. As an extension — and perhaps most hazardously in political terms — approval of Bush’s handling of terrorism, the base of his support, has lost 11 points since January to match its low, 50 percent in June 2004 when it was pressured both by the presidential campaign and the kidnapping and slaying of American Paul Johnson in Saudi Arabia (emphasis added).

Lo, how the mighty have fallen! When disapproval (49 percent) is almost as high as approval (50 percent) in Bush’s strongest area (the handling of terrorism), you know things are going very poorly indeed for the incumbent and his administration. Consider some other results from the poll not alluded to in the Langer excerpt above.
1. Disapproval of Bush’s performance far outweighs approval on Social Security (62-34), on the economy (58-40), on Iraq (58-41) and on stem cell research (55-33).
2. The drop in Bush’s approval rating on fighting terrorism has been most pronounced among political independents. In March, 63 percent of this group approved of Bush’s performance in this area;. That dropped to 54 percent in April and has sunk to a mere 40 percent this month. Independents are also pushing the rise in sentiment that the Iraq war has not made America safer; today around 60 percent endorse that view.
3. By 61-37, the public believes Bush and the Republicans are not making good progress on solving the nation’s problems. And, among those who believe progress is not being made, the blame is far more likely to be pinned on Bush and Republicans themselves (67 percent) than on the Democrats in Congress (13 percent).
4. On Social Security, just 27 percent support introducing private accounts within Social Security if these accounts are accompanied by a reduction in the rate of growth of guaranteed benefits. By 56-32, the public believes that such a change in Social Security would decrease, not increase, the overall retirement income most seniors receive. And, by 63-32, they believe that Bush’s proposals for Social Security would not improve the long-term financial stability of the system.
5. By 5 points (46-41), the public believes Democrats can do a better job coping with the main problems facing the nation in the next few years. Prior to the 2002 Congressional elections, Republicans were consistently running ahead of the Democrats on this measure.
6. By 2:1 (65-33), the public does not believe the Bush administration has a clear plan for eventually withdrawing from Iraq.
7. As Bush’s second terms began, Americans, by 55-29, expected Bush to do a better job in his second term than in his first. The last several months have dashed that sense of optimism. Now only 30 percent expect him to do better, actually less than the number (38 percent) who expect him to do worse.
8. Is Bush concentrating on things that are important to “you personally” The public, by a 58-41 margin, says no.
It’s difficult to look at these and other recent data and perceive much the Bush administration currently has going for it, other than general support for the war on terror. And, as we’ve seen, faith that Bush knows what he’s doing has now been sharply eroded even in this area.
That just doesn’t leave the GOP with much to brag about to voters. No wonder so many Republicans running for re-election in 2006 are acting so nervous!