Is the Tide Turning?
The media, including this column, have been quick
to point out the continued declines in President Bush's job-approval
ratings this year, so it is only fair to flag what might be a
bottoming out and possible uptick in his ratings.
A new Time
of 1,004 registered voters conducted Nov. 29-Dec. 1 (margin of
error +/-3) found the president's approval rating to be 41 percent,
with a disapproval rating of 53 percent. While it is technically
true that the latest approval rating is one point lower than in
Time's previous survey, that poll was taken Sept. 7-8,
and in the ensuing period the president's approval numbers had
very clearly dropped much lower.
What is important
is that this new Time poll is the third major poll in
a row indicating a 40-plus percent approval rating for President
Bush. A Nov. 29-30 Fox News poll
showed a 42 percent approval, while a Cook Political Report/RT
pegged it at 41-percent in a Nov. 17-20 poll. From Oct. 28 until
Nov. 15, only one out of 12 major national surveys gave the president
an approval rating of 40 percent or higher, and his average approval
rating was 37.5 percent.
difference between 11 out of 12 under 40 -- averaging 37.5 percent
-- and three in a row just over 40 -- averaging 41 percent --
is not sufficient to declare that something is happening, it's
a tip off that at the very least, Bush has stabilized his situation,
at least temporarily, and recouped a bit of lost ground.
To be sure,
a 41- or 42-percent job-approval rating is a bad one, and of the
post-World War II presidents who were both elected and re-elected
to office, only Richard Nixon has been lower in a second term,
but Ronald Reagan dipped to 43 percent during Iran-Contra and
managed to finish with a very respectable approval rating of 63
percent. More importantly, while the difference between 41 and,
say, 39 percent is only two percentage points, that difference
is much more significant than the difference between 47 and 49
percent or between 55 and 57 percent, in that it is somewhat akin
to the way retailers like to price products at 95 or 99 cents,
because paying say $199.95 is better than $200.00 -- at least
in consumer psychology. Jumping the 40-percent mark represents
the same psychology.
Bush's challenges remain formidable. It's a decent bet that around
70 percent of the president's current approval problems are related
to the war in Iraq. Without substantial improvement to the situation
in Iraq, or at least the public's perception and the president's
handling of it, no meaningful recovery in Bush's numbers are possible
and voters will be unwilling to assess his performance on much
of anything other than the war.
It is hard
for even strong economic numbers, such as last week's announcement
that the economy grew at a fabulous rate of 4.3 percent in the
third quarter, to make a real difference for the president if
the focus remains on Iraq (the GDP growth announcement came the
morning after the first of three nights of interviewing for the
And it would
be a mistake to underestimate the intensity of opposition that
has developed to President Bush. Both the Cook Political Report/RT
Strategies Poll and the Nov. 7-9 Associated Press/Ipsos survey
not just measured his approval and disapproval, but asked people
whether they strongly approved (or disapproved) or only somewhat
approved (or disapproved). Those surveys found the strong disapproval
to be a whopping 43 percent -- the AP/Ipsos poll had the strong
disapproval to be 42 percent in their previous month's poll. By
comparison, that strong disapproval was just 35 percent in both
the June and July AP/Ipsos polls and began the year at 30 percent.
The strong opposition has increased by over a third and almost
a half in much less than a year. Watch for the next AP/Ipsos and
Cook Political Report/RT Strategies polls in the next couple of
weeks to see if that intensity has waned.
It will take
a few more polls to firmly establish what is going on here. If,
say, two out of the next three or three out of the next five national
polls show approval ratings of 40 percent or higher, than it means
that there really has been a bottoming out and that a few points
have been recouped. If in the next couple of weeks we start seeing
several 43- or 44- or 45-percent approval ratings, that would
signal some recovery is taking place. We haven't seen a 43 percent
or better rating since the end of September.
pay attention to the averages of all the major national polls,
and do not succumb to the temptation of cherry picking and believing
only the surveys that report what you would like to see happen.
It's not only intellectually dishonest, but also terribly misleading.
way of keeping tabs is the "Polls"
feature on Realclearpolitics.com,
which lists results chronologically and provides an average of
all the recent major national polls, though I only watch those
conducted by live people interviewing respondents and ignore the
computer-interviewed Rasmussen Poll.
Cook's "Off To The Races" is published each Tuesday
by National Journal.
For more information about National Journal Group's publications,
go to http://www.nationaljournal.com/about/