As private accounts continue to flatline, a few people are starting to notice that President Bush isn't very popular, as I pointed out last week. Ironically enough, it was the Washington Times that led the charge:
President Bush's record-low approval ratings are a result primarily of public dissatisfaction with his handling of domestic issues that loom larger than foreign policy in his second term.
On issues such as immigration and controlling federal spending, Americans disapprove of the president's approach by margins of at least 20 percent, according to Gallup. While they approve of his handling of terrorism by a similar margin, such foreign-policy issues have faded from the headlines in recent months.
...Unfortunately for Mr. Bush, Gallup also found that only 35 percent of Americans approve of his handling of Social Security, compared with 56 percent who disapprove. While other surveys show greater approval of the president's Social Security stance, he generally polls worse on domestic issues than foreign.
It's not uncommon to hear or read pundits referring to President George W. Bush as a "popular" leader or even a "very popular" one. Even some of his critics in the press refer to him this way. Perhaps they need to check the latest polls.
President Bush's approval rating has plunged to the lowest level of any president since World War II at this point in his second term, the Gallup Organization reported today.
All other presidents who served a second term had approval ratings well above 50% in the March following their election, Gallup reported.
Presidents Truman and Johnson had finished out the terms of their predecessors, and then won election on their own for a second term.
Bush's current rating is 45%. The next lowest was Reagan with 56% in March 1985.
More bad signs for the president: Gallup's survey now finds only 38% expressing satisfaction with the "state of the country" while 59% are "dissatisfied." One in three Americans feel the economy is excellent or good, while the rest find it "only fair" or poor.
This shouldn't be surprising -- Bush won re-election by the narrowest margin since Woodrow Wilson, and private accounts are sinking like the Titanic. But the media persists in exaggerating Bush's popularity (and pretending that private accounts are still alive). A similar phenomenon took place with Ronald Reagan, who was not particularly popular by historical standards, but was repeatedly described as such by the press both during and after his term in office. The question is whether we'll see the same pattern with Bush. If so, the consequences will be huge. The deference accorded to so-called "popular" presidents changes the whole tone and tenor of the coverage they receive. Talk about the social construction of reality...
Almost three months into President Bush's second term, a raft of economic and social issues -- Social Security, immigration, gay marriage and the recent national debate over Terri Schiavo -- is splintering the Republican base.
After winning re-election on the strength of support from nine in 10 Republican voters, the president is seeing significant chunks of that base balk at major initiatives, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows. One-third of Republicans say Democrats in Congress should prevent Mr. Bush and party leaders from "going too far in pushing their agenda," and 41% oppose eliminating filibusters against Mr. Bush's judicial nominees -- the "nuclear option" that Senate Republican leaders are considering.
The Schiavo case has opened another rift. Though Mr. Bush and Republican congressional leaders acted to maximize the opportunity for reinserting Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube, 39% of Republicans said removing the tube was "the right thing to do," while 48% said it was wrong. About 18% of Republicans say they lost respect for Mr. Bush on the issue and 41% lost respect for Congress. The survey of 1,002 adults, conducted March 31-April 3, has a margin for error of 3.1 percentage points in either direction; the error margin for Republicans alone is 5.2 percentage points.
...The latest poll shows that Mr. Bush retains huge Republican support in general. His overall approval rating remains at the middling levels he has registered for more than a year, slipping slightly to 48% from 50% in February. But fully 87% of Republicans approve of his job performance, and 88% express positive views about him personally.
Different elements of the party, however, are balking at specific items on the president's agenda. On his centerpiece initiative of Social Security, for instance, 32% of Republicans call it "a bad idea" to let workers invest payroll taxes in the stock markets.
Despite Mr. Bush's cross-country tour to sell his plan, that proportion has held steady since January, while resistance among Democrats and senior citizens has driven overall opposition to 55% from the 50% recorded on the eve of his second inauguration. On Social Security, "opinions are hardening in a way that makes Bush's job more difficult," Mr. McInturff says.
On judicial nominations -- a cause of contention between the White House and Democratic leaders -- resistance among rank-and-file Republicans is even higher. Four in 10 say the option of filibusters should be preserved.
On Mr. Bush's proposal to grant legal status to some illegal immigrants already in the U.S., Republicans are opposed by 50%-48% -- almost matching the 54%-42% opposition among Democrats. About 55% of independents oppose Mr. Bush's plan, while 38% favor it.
Nearly two-thirds of Republicans say Congress shouldn't pass legislation affecting families in cases such as Ms. Schiavo's, though some Republicans on Capitol Hill aim to do just that. By 50%-37%, Republicans say the federal government should be "less active" on social and moral issues; on gay marriage Republicans split evenly, with 48% saying Congress should pass legislation and 47% saying it shouldn't.
Here's one important finding that's not in the artice: When asked to choose between the claim that "Federal tax cuts have been worth it because they have helped strengthen the economy by allowing Americans to keep more of their own money" and the claim that "Federal tax cuts have NOT been worth it because they have increased the deficit and caused cuts in government programs," the public chooses the second over the first by a 54%-38% margin. Yet rolling back Bush's tax cuts, which cost far more over 75 years than the Social Security deficit, is not on the table. (The full poll results are here [PDF]. Note that all WSJ links require a subscription.)
Finally, USA Today also reported on the Gallup poll, though less harshly than E&P.