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Bush: Why So Unpopular?

Topics: George Bush

This morning, The Washington Post's Peter Baker takes a closer look at why President Bush, with a disapproval rating of 65% on the latest Post/ABC survey, "is in the running for most unpopular president in the history of modern polling." While poll junkies ought to read the whole thing, this bit of historical context from pollster Patrick Caddell is especially intriguing:

"It's astonishing," said Pat Caddell, who was President Jimmy Carter's pollster. "It's hard to look at the situation today and say the country is absolutely 15 miles down in the hole. The economy's not that bad -- for some people it is, but not overall. Iraq is terribly handled, but it's not Vietnam; we're not losing 250 people a week. . . . We don't have that immediate crisis, yet the anxiety about the future is palpable. And the feeling about him is he's irrelevant to that. I think they've basically given up on him."

Baker goes on to float the theory that "the changing nature of society," and in particular of the way Americans receive their news, is partly responsible for the difference:

"A lot of the commentary that comes out of the Internet world is very harsh," said Frank J. Donatelli, White House political director for Ronald Reagan. "That has a tendency to reinforce people's opinions and harden people's opinions."

Hmm. Thoughts anyone?

Update: TNR's Jon Chait has more thoughts, as does Open Left's Chris Bowers.

 

Comments
steve:

Bush down in the polls due to "harsh" commentary? Come on. He's down in the polls and getting "harsh" comments for the same reason -- he's a deliberately polarizing and nasty political figure, which combined with his total ineptness, is polarizing everyone's attitudes against him. His extraordinary ineptness in foreign policy, combined with his emphasis on that as his strength, will keep his poll results well-deservedly down.

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JohnG:

Iraq is not Vietnam (no draft, not the same number of casualties), but there are two differences: First, from '68 on the President at least said we were trying to get out, not staying in. Second, by the administration's own assessment, we are losing the war on Islamic extremists in Iraq (where we created them), in Afghanistan (where we diverted troops to Iraq before they finished the job) and in Pakistan (where we let them escape). You can't tell the American people that we are in more trouble now than before 9/11 and not get slammed in the polls.

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Rob:

I think that Caddell's comments just skim the surface; when you add Katrina; ignoring Geneva conventions, the large amount of real and apparent corruption; Assault on the enivronment; the lack of competitive bids in government purchases; the refusal to defend our borders while creating fear and hysteria in almost every speech; the GROSS incompetence; the assault on the environment; out of control gas prices; the national debt; the decimation of the military and military families; the VA hospital system fiasco.... the contempt for the American working class... WHY ARE HIS NUMBERS SO HIGH?

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Tom:

The long list of failings Rob cites go a long way toward explaining why Bush's numbers are so much lower than Caddell expects. Also, on the economy, there's a sense that, not just have the modest gains of Bush's years been unequally shared, but that even they feel on the edge of being wiped away -- nearly everyone I know has seen their corporate health care plan reduced in value, and rumblings in recent economic numbers suggest we're past the best times already. I also think the level of corruption, from Gonzales through Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, is simply staggering to most people.

And what about the pure arrogance of Bush's reaction to the election? The message couldn't have been any clearer: a strong majority wanted this war over, yesterday if possible, and Bush's reaction was to instead double-down. In effect, he said, I hear you loud and clear; you can all go screw yourselves.

We're in uncharted territory. As JohnG says, LBJ in a similar situation at least decided to change course. Previous presidents who reached such nadirs in polls either changed policy, or were thrown out of office (Carter, GHWBush). Bush is the rarity - thoroughly repudiated in polls, he opts to continue striaght ahead, if cat giving slightly more of the same. The price his party will pay in 16 months could be enormous.

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NTB:

The quotes about impact of Internet commentary are interesting, but I'm not sure I buy them. Think about the way many of the political blogs work. Liberal blogs are read by liberals and vice versa for conservative blogs. So, although they are reinforcing beliefs, they should cancel each other out. Liberals, who are predisposed to disapprove of a conservative president will grow more confident in their initial attitude. Conservatives should, in theory, initial support a conservative president and grow stronger in that belief. I doubt there are many liberals being persuaded by conservative blogs.

I think one of the keys to President Bush's amazing disapproval rating is the number intra-party cleavage issues he has promoted or seen the Democrats put on the agenda. Iraq and Immigration are very difficult issues for Republicans to unite on. Therefore, we see President Bush's disapproval rating among Republicans higher than it should be.

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Chuck:

I don't think that the internet explains Bush's problems nor does the objective situation. Yes, things are bad but I agree with Caudell that they are not as desparate in the short run as some other periods. Bush's problem is his rigidity. When things were going well, it was seen as strength. Now, however, people are seeing him as unwilling to adjust to the real situation. Then, of course, there is the pervasive incompetence that comes from staffing as much of the government as possible with ideological loyalist so that FEMA and foreign policy (to name a few) are so poorly managed.

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Andrew:

I'm not surprised that Baker blames the internet. Baker's credibility suffered a blow today when i his Washington Post article, he said that voters disapprove of "Democrats (in congress) in particular", ignoring the fact that Republicans are viewed more negatively than Democrats according to the poll Baker himself used as reference.
There is no evidence that Internet news tilts left; and by the way...does Baker imply that before the internet era, the mainstream media including the print edition of the Washington Post was pro-Bush?

Baker's article was so flawed that media matters dedicated a whole article to it:
http://mediamatters.org/items/200707250003?f=h_latest

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Tim:

Liberals and hard-core, party-line Democrats will disapprove of any Republican president. What's remarkable is how far the dissatisfaction has crept into the ranks of moderates, conservatives, and Republicans.

I suspect that these folks have abandoned the president for some combination of the following reasons:

-His abandonment of certain libertarian causes (e.g., the budget deficit)

-His abandonment of certain populist causes (e.g., border enforcement)

-His abandonment of certain moralist causes (e.g., torture)

-His lack of verbal skills

-His bet-the-farm-on-Iraq strategy


When a Republican president actively antagonizes the libertarians, the populists, the moralists, and the isolationists, he's left with the rednecks... who apparently make up about 30% of the country.

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Blaming The Blogosphere Is Ludicrous

The idea that Bush's low approval ratings can be blamed on the blogosphere is typical rightwing denial. As such, it's ideally suited to be part of the Beltway Converntional Wisdom.

Because, of course, it's predicated on absolute denial of how heavily the Convernional Wisdom--dominating every form of media outside of the blogosphere--has delusionally favored Bush.

Bush is not simply the worst President ever. He's off the charts. He's in Roman Emperor territory. And all the king's horses and all the king's men in all the media empires that kiss his wring can't hide that simple fact from the American people any longer.

It's. Just. That. Simple.

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Xstryker:

The COMMENTARY has changed?? Are you KIDDING me? Ever heard, "Hey Hey LBJ, How many kids did you kill today?" LBJ got higher approval because he seemed to genuinely care about someone, at least (The Great Society). The difference between guys like LBJ or Hoover and Dubya is pure pigheaded arrogance, ignorance, corruption, and the utter disrespect for the laws and principles of the nation. Bush is the total package.

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Caddell's befuddlement demonstrates an astonishing ignorance. Bush has ripped the country apart, trampled on the Constitution, and put himself and his minions above the law. His Presidency has combined the competence of Jimmy Carter with the integrity of Richard Nixon. The amazing (and frightening) thing is that 30% of Americans think he's doing a good job. This group is composed almost entirely of those among the very wealthy who care only about themselves and religious fanatics, who, like Bush, believe God put him in power.

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Fred P:

Why are his numbers so low?

1) An unpopular war that's dragged out for a long time, and that he has no intention of trying to end.
2) Being in two wars at once, without finishing the first one.
3) Not achieving certain major objectives he set (such as killing or capturing Osama Bin Laden.
4) Repeated, deliberate, and open violations of treaties, the U.S. Constitution, and various laws. Even worse, there are numerous Conservative lawyers that subscribe to this view (not just Liberal lawyers).
5) Being against some very popular legislation (examples: increasing minimum wage, expanding health care to kids).
6) Supporting some very unpopular legislation.
7) Presiding over an economy that is tilting more against the lower and middle classes (where most of the population is).
8) High Oil prices
9) Being viewed in negative terms, even among major figures in his own party (you know, the ones who keep bringing up the "Impeachment" word).
10) Defending major advisers that are embroiled in major scandals.
11) Continually resisting the Courts and Congress.
12) The (partial) renunciation of Habeas Corpus.
13) Treating prisoners like a stereotypical third world dictator.
14) Using fear to attempt to hold onto power.
15) Presiding over a horribly mis-managed government.
16) Katrina (more specifically, the lack of preparation of it, and the lack of response to it, through this day).
17) Being the most visible member of a party that's had a disproportionate share of recent scandals.

Frankly, I think the worst problem he has is the inability to point towards anything recent that at least the vast majority of Republicans or Conservatives consider both major and positive. I suspect that (barring his Impeachment) his numbers will continue to slide slowly downhill, particularly when the Republican Presidential nominee decides to try to draw deep distinctions from Bush. Impeachment would likely have a short-term rally effect, followed by a crash (the later only if most of the public agrees with the reasons behind the Impeachment).

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