Thursday, March 03, 2005

Times Poll: Bush Isn't Moving the Public

The latest poll from the New York Times indicates that President Bush is having difficulty convincing the public to accept his plans for Social Security. Fifty-one (51) percent oppose private accounts, which climbs to 69 percent on the assumption that private accounts will lead to a decrease in guaranteed benefits. This after weeks of traveling around the country to rally support for his scheme.

The problem for Bush is that, for a "going public" strategy to be successful, the public has to approve of the job the president's doing in the first place. In the Times poll, Bush's approval rating is 49 percent.

In fact, Bush is wildly popular among Republicans but equally unpopular among Democrats. In such a polarized setting, there is a natural ceiling to Bush's popularity and it probably isn't high enough to enable him to enact a major policy revision.

On a related note, a National Journal article from a few weeks ago (January 22 to be exact), noted the "declining currency" of winning reelection to a second presidential term. There are too few cases (only six since 1950) to be certain of such a decline, but one trend does look ominous - the approval rating of presidents by members of the opposition party has dropped dramatically. [From the National Journal article...]

The Satisfaction Gap

Newly re-elected presidents always have strong support from

their own partisans, but over the years the approval such

leaders receive from the out-of-power party has declined

steadily. The chart below shows each president's approval rating

in the first Gallup Poll conducted in the year after his


Col. 1: Approval rating from members of the president's


Col. 2: Overall approval rating

Col. 3: Approval rating from opposition party members

Col. 1 Col. 2 Col. 3

1957 (Eisenhower) 91 73 57

1965 (Johnson) 85 71 51

1973 (Nixon) 81 51 36

1985 (Reagan) 88 62 39

1997 (Clinton) 85 58 32

2005 (Bush) 91 52 19

SOURCE: Gallup Poll
Because the number of independents has increased, the drop in overall approval ratings hasn't been as precipitous. But these numbers suggest a deep polarization that, if continued, will make it difficult for any president to govern effectively (in the absence of majority control of both chambers in Congress, of course, though even that won't help Bush with Social Security privatization).


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