Articles and Analysis


Bush Approval: Newsweek at 28%, Trend at 33.2%

Topics: George Bush


A Newsweek poll taken 5/2-3/07 finds President Bush's approval rating fallen to 28%, with disapproval at 64%. This is a new all time low for Newsweek polling on Bush and ties the lowest readings of Harris polls (taken 4/20-23/07) and an older CBS poll taken 1/18-21/07. No poll has found a lower approval reading for the President.

With the addition of this Newsweek poll, my trend estimate stands at 33.2%, also an all time low.

Before concluding that Bush's approval has crashed, however, the Newsweek poll should be compared to the recent trend and to other recent polls. The last six polls have registered approval at 35, 28, 35, 32, 35 and 28. So the last six readings are three at 35, one at 32 and two at 28, a seven point range.

In the figure below, the Newsweek poll is clearly well below the current trend estimate, and more importantly, is below the typical Newsweek poll, which is normally about 2-3 points below the trend. The current poll is 5.2 points below trend.


This means that Newsweek is a bit atypically low, compared to both other polls and to its own normal trend.

A check of the outlier analysis shows that Newsweek, like Harris 10 days earlier, is in fact an outlier when compared to the variation around the trend estimate for all polls.


The Newsweek and Harris polls are exerting a significant pull on the trend estimate, even when balanced against the three recent polls at 35%. The current small downward slope in the trend estimate is due to the addition of Newsweek. It was flat prior to adding the new poll.

The uncertainty of the trend estimate can be seen in the gray area in the plot below. While the trend is moving a bit down since early 2007, it has remained well within the gray region, suggesting we have no reliable evidence that approval is moving either way. Since January the approval trend has sometimes moved up slightly and sometimes down slightly, but has never sustained either trend long enough to move out of the uncertainty band. The current downward slope may again be reversed with new polling (or not-- let the data speak.)


The sensitivity analysis below shows how the last 20 trend estimates have moved around as each new poll has been added. the substantial effect of the new Newsweek poll is apparent in the gap between the current estimate and the previous cluster of estimates between 34% and 35%.


The bottom line is that the evidence for a new decline in approval remains quite mixed, with two polls claiming a rather dramatic drop in approval, while several others suggest continued stability around 32%-35%. Given the outlier analysis and the fact that the Newsweek poll is clearly below that poll's own trend, we must still wait before concluding that approval has taken a sharp turn down. The evidence remains in favor of rough stability around 34%, though the trend estimate now stands a little below that, in deference to Newsweek's evidence.

Cross-posted at Political Arithmetik.



What's unclear is whether the Newsweek poll (which also has all D frontrunners beating all R's in 2008) is sustained, a trend, an outlier, etc.

What does seem clear is that there's no Bush recovery upward.

The current political discussion about Iraq (driving these numbers) and the Gonzales DoJ scandal that is still unfolding is not likely to change any time soon. So, either R respondents peel off along with congressional R's (he drops lower) or they don't (yet) and the numbers stay stable for a while.

We'll see, but Prof. Franklin is right to not overread the Newsweek poll.



I noticed that the uncertainty bands (the gray regions) are widest at the beginning (2001) and in the last several months, but were tighter in the period in between. At the beginning of Bush's presidency, the approval ratings were in the 50s; not surprising as a large proportion of the population was still developing an opinion of Bush. The width seems like a signal of volatility with a central chunk of people going back and forth about how they felt about Bush (then 9/11 hit and all bets were off) .

I'm wondering if the current width is also a signal of some volatility -- but since we're talking about approval in the low 30s, among those people who still want to support Bush but are more and more uncomfortable with the way things are going. While there will probably always be a small core (last I saw was 17%) who strongly approve of Bush, the group of moderate approvers is in flux. If I'm right, the Newsweek poll might (only might) signal that a chunk of this group is finally leaving the fold. OTOH, as the Prof Franklin says, it's too early to tell.



With rising gasoline prices as a leading indicator of rising presidential disapproving, it looks like GWB is in for a tough summer. He's not exactly building from a strong base, and gasoline prices are headed up up up.


DemfromCT: It IS an interesting question to think about what could turn approval upwards. The administration has had only three periods of significant upturn other than 9/11, Iraq and Saddam's capture (and those 3 were immediately followed by new declines.) The first was the entire 2004 general election campaign, from March through November 2004. The climb was slow but steady through the year. The second was November-December 2005, when the White House launched a vigorous defense of the Iraq war, and the third was May 2006-September 2006, when Bush showed some leadership on immigration policy (his speech on the subject stopped a long decline and started the upturn. After that, there are few obvious events that helped sustain the rise through the summer.)

But the administration has not shown it can sustain improvements for more than a few months, as in these cases.

So I can imagine an upturn for a while-- and most credibly if, as in 2004, the President finds a good Democratic target to campaign against. However, he is so much weaker now than in 2004, I'm not sure this is still possible, at least with the war as a constant drag.

Tamar-- the uncertainty is greater at the end points (both beginning and ending) where we don't have polls on one side to stabilize the estimate. The bands are also wider when less polling is done-- so in part the aftermath of 9/11 or the 2004 campaign reflect greater density of polling. And the sharp, discontinuous turns like 9/11 create a lot of short term uncertainty just because the change is so great and the model doesn't adjust as quickly as it might. The current period is partly an issue of the volume of polls, which is a bit down, and partly endpoint issues and partly variation from poll to poll. If you look at the residuals plot, you'll see that the variation in residuals has been looking pretty stable for a while, so I don' think there is actually an increase in volatility of the polling.

Andrew-- I have to admit this is a pet peeve of mine. While gas prices may matter (and some analysis finds that they don't much), it seems to me to trivialize the problems of the President due to the Iraq war and domestic issues to blame all of his problems on gas prices. Think of the counter-factual: if gas prices had remained stable throughout his presidency, do you think Bush's approval rating would be high now? I think any president who leads the nation into a long, inconclusive war is all but certain to suffer politically. To blame it all on gas prices seems to trivialize what the issues really are that are driving the President's problems.



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