Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Why Bush regrets getting what he wished for

I apologize for the lack of posting lately. Immediately after graduation, I started my Bar review classes, and haven't had much free time. I'm going to schedule time to post at least twice during the weekdays and once over the weekends until the end of July.

Today, I want to discuss the latest ABCNews/WaPo poll. Although not one of the "gold" standards of poll (ala Gallup) and publicly discounted by conservatives given the news source, I have no doubts that privately the GOP has examined and is thoroughly concerned about the results of this latest poll. And if not, they would be wise to heed this call: "You should be."

1) Under the "be careful what you wish for" category: Since 9/11, the President's greatest arsenal to placate Democrats and critics into submission has been his high approval rating on terrorism. Indeed, whenever the President faced trouble passing any initiative through Congress, he merely needed to link it to terrorism and it would then sail through Congress like a flying greased pig. In fact, Bush was largely re-elected solely on the issue of he was trusted more than Kerry on national security and terrorism issues.

So it shouldn't surprise anyone that when faced with criticism over his plans to invade Iraq and the subsequent occupation that Bush would constantly try to link the invasion of Iraq to the war on terror. First we were told Saddam had WMD, then that he was a material support of Al Queda, and then that he may have participated in the planning or otherwise aided them in the 9/11 attacks. Then we were told that Saddam intended to develop WMD to sell to the Al Queda. When all of this was revealed to be untrue, Bush then insisted that promoting democracy in the Middle East is the means in which to defeat terrorism.

Tragically and unfortunately, Bush gambit worked with Iraq as well. The more the American people viewed a link between Iraq and the War on Terror, the more popular the President's Iraq policy became. That's why during the 2004 elections, Democrats tried to carefully lay out the argument that there is a disconnect between the real war on terror and Iraq.

Well, the President won the election and, unfortunately for him, the argument, too. Finally, a majority of Americans view the President's handling of Iraq with his handling of terrorism, but not in the way he intended: The President's once large net approval rating on terrorism has all but evaporated into a statistically insignificant 50-49% approval/disapproval split. The only plausible explanation for the sudden six-point drop in his terrorism approval rating is that Americans now connect the President's handling of terrorism in general with his handling of the insurgents in Iraq. This new connection is a millstone to Bush's neck.

2/3 of Americans believe the Administration has no end-game plan for Iraq. 2/3 of Americans describe the country as "bogged" down in Iraq, and over half believe that Iraq has not contributed to the long-term safety of America. Americans are increasingly starting to negatively view America's progress on the war on terror based on its growing pessimism and concerns about the Administration's handling of Iraq.

The good news for Bush? Uh, terrorism is still his strongest area of support. Everything else polled had a net negative rating. Including....

2) Bush: Good ol' boy no mo'- Remember how infuriated you'd get when people said they were voting for Bush because they liked the man, even if they didn't agree with all of his policies? How many stories on focus groups and polls talked about Bush as a guy Americans could see themselves grillin' in the backyard and knockin' down some cold near-beers with? Well, that used to be President Bush's second greatest polling strength but no more: Bush now has a net negative favorability rating of 48-51%.

Here's the part that will scare the crap out of any conservative (just for fun):
Americans have a more favorable view of U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (51-46%.... more if you look at Gallup) than they do President Bush.

3) Obstructionist Democrats?: Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that President Bush and Congressional Republicans are not making sufficient progress addressing the nation's problems. How many Americans blame the obstructionist Democrats for that? 13%. 67% blame Bush and the GOP Congressional leadership. Why? Cause they're trying to address the wrong problems. Americans rank the top three issues as: the economy/jobs (30%), Iraq (24%), and health care (16%). Given that a vast majority of Americans disapprove of the President's handling of each of these issues, it's no secret why since around 59% of Americans feels that Bush and GOP are mainly concentrating on issues not important to Americans!

4) It's starting to look (or not) like 1994 again: Generic Congressional ballot numbers are a horrible indicator of elections. For an incumbent, the most important polling number is the re-elect/someone new number because it, historically, is the most accurate predictor of election results. If a majority of your constituency is inclined to vote for your re-election (regardless of your challenger), then you really don't have much of an election to worry about.

In the ABCNews/WaPo poll: only 40% of Americans were inclined to vote to re-elect their member of Congress, and 50% were inclined to vote for someone else. That's numbers that would get a campaign running scared in an election, let alone a year out. It's also very similar to the numbers the fall before the 1994 Congressional elections (It was 35% re-elect-56% not right before the 1994 Congressional election disaster).

So as a trend, these number should give Congressional leaders pause. But Democrats shouldn't get too excited either. While Americans seemingly seem dissatisfied with GOP leadership, they have not been sold that change would be better. For the most part, Congressional Democrats and the Democratic Party as a whole is polling equal to or (statistically insignificant) slightly better than the Republicans. For Democrats to capitalize on these poll numbers, they need to sell a plan to America on the issues Americans feel are being neglected: the economy, Iraq, and health care. Democrats need to convince Americans they have a winnable plan to address these issues and can govern more effectively than the GOP.

Of course, the GOP is not going to operate in a vacuum either. Despite the Administration's plague of tin-earitis, the GOP will be subjecting itself to a careful make-over before the next Congressional election. Expect to start seeing more Ah-nold, McCain, and Rudy again soon. It's that time again....


OLS said...

Nice post, Modern!

Traveller said...

Ditto that!