Newsweek Poll: Good News And Bad News For Bush
There’s the old saying “one step forward and two steps back” and it would appear that’s the bottom line for President George Bush in a new Newsweek poll that has some good and bad news for him.
The good news, according to Newsweek. At the height of Katrina Bush apparently hit his “floor” on polling, and he’s now rebounding.
The bad news: even party faithful are now having reservations about the GOP. The subtext: Bush has to work to stave off a perception about him that could prove highly damaging to him — and the GOP — in the long run.
Some highlights from Newsweek:
In the wake of what was widely seen as an inept government response to Hurricane Katrina, the presidentâ€™s approval rating sank three weeks ago to a NEWSWEEK poll record low, dipping to just 38 percent. But the new NEWSWEEK poll, taken on Thursday and Friday nights, after the indictment of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, shows the presidentâ€™s support bolstered slightly, up to 40 percent. With a four-point margin of error, two points is not considered â€œstatistically significant,â€? but tell that to the White House. Polling is all about momentum, and the president has clearly stopped the slide.
How he did he do it? Partly, Americans believe he has done a better job handling Hurricane Rita and her aftermath. While 49 percent disapprove of Bushâ€™s response to Rita (42 percent approve), after Katrina the numbers were more dire, with just 37 percent of Americans approving of the presidentâ€™s actions and 57 percent disapproving. And a majority of Americans, 57 percent, believe that after the hurricane doubleheader and the departure of former FEMA Director Michael Brown, the federal government is â€œbetter able to respond to a major hurricane or other natural disasterâ€? in the future.
In addition to the presidentâ€™s action offensive–heâ€™s visited the devastated Gulf region more than a half-dozen times–most Americans may simply not link the president to DeLay. Another possible explanation is that after weeks of strident criticism of the president, the Republican base is rallying round their man.
Republicansâ€™ renewed support is obvious in the small approval rebound in the presidentâ€™s area of greatest strength: 51 percent of Americans approve of his policies on terrorism and homeland security in the new poll, compared to 46 percent three weeks ago. While thatâ€™s still less than his historical average, somewhere north of 60 percent when it comes to homeland security and terrorism, itâ€™s going in the right direction.
So there’s an upward trend, related to what we’ve pointed to here many tines– a better job on Hurricane Rita, plus the very strong loyalty of Bush’s base. This suggests that even with poor numbers, Bush should still be able to pass some policies that Democrats (or independents) don’t want, due to the continued strength of this base.
Or can he?
The bad news is that Republicansâ€™ support, while halting the presidentâ€™s fall, even after the indictment of DeLay, isnâ€™t resuscitating Bushâ€™s political fortunes.
Despite a much more hands-on presidential approach after Hurricane Rita, a competence gap may be opening for the president. When given a choice, 49 percent of Americans in the new NEWSWEEK Poll say Bush is â€œa bad manager who doesnâ€™t know enough about whatâ€™s going on around him and below him.â€? Forty-three percent say heâ€™s a â€œgood manager who focuses on whatâ€™s important and delegates well.â€?
The idea of the perception of a “competence gap” should worry GWB’s advisors — a lot.
It’s a matter of conventional wisdom imagery. Bush started OUT with that kind of image (a cartoonish image is always the quickest way to communicate for some journalists so it takes hold quickly in campaigns), but it was largely eradicated by 911 — and his famous Bullhorn Moment. Until 911, satirists on TV and in groups such as The Capitol Steps had a field day with the Mad Magazine-like caricature of Bush as a bumbling Texas lightweight. 911 erased it in many quarters (or has it been in remission?)
Bush does NOT want a “high concept” perception of him to take hold (it already exists on the left but, then, the perception always existed about Bill Clinton on the right).
Think Gerald Ford as a head-bumper. The brief flirtation of the media with the perception that the first George Bush was a wimp. The image of Dwight Eisenhower as a competent President but one who spent an inordinate amount of time on the golf links.
Sometimes a perception is positive and the legend grows around it — such as JFK and Camelot (books since JFK’s death had tarnished that one quite a bit). And:
More Americans still disapprove of the presidentâ€™s handling of problems caused by Rita than approve (49 percent vs. 42 percent.) And, across the board, most of his most visible policies only pull the support of a third of the country: on the economy, 35 percent approve; on Iraq, 33 percent; on energy policy, 28 percent.
So is the GOP actually majority party with minority support on particular policies (if this poll is accurate)? And here’s the WORST PART of the poll for Bush:
More worrisome still, the base that provides the floor to the presidentâ€™s support are critical of their own party these days. For instance, a 49-percent plurality of Republicans says their party is â€œtoo close to oil companiesâ€? and a 53-percent majority says itâ€™s â€œtoo close to big business.â€?
Those party members are the ones susceptible to being sliced off by the opposing party in an election year–say, 2006, when the midterm Congressional elections roll around. (Democrats do not seem to be as disparaging of their party; majorities of Democrats say their party is not too close to â€œlabor unions,â€? 51 percent, or â€œminority interest groups,â€? 50 percent.)
Indeed, it’s a perception problem that the indictment of Tom DeLay (and any indictments that may come out of Plamegate) will not help.
Democrats logged quite a few years in the White House in the 20th century. But as time went on they were perceived by many as a corrupt, lard-butted party kowtowing to Big Labor, special interests groups, and to far left activists who used the word “Nazi” as much as often as they used the phrase “you know.”
Bill Clinton’s victory was partly due to moving (with the help of the Democratic Leadership Council) the party’s policies and imagery away from that conventional wisdom…and getting the word out.
In the early 20th century there was an overall belief that the GOP was virtually owned by Big Business, but Teddy Roosevelt went gone a long way towards changing and softening the Republicans’ earlier image with his reformist policies. Herbert Hoover undid some of that but the image still remained a bit softer.
Now we’re apparently coming full circle.
The Newsweek poll suggests that the GOP is acquiring an image that’s not nice — even among it’s own, loyal base.
The problem is that if more things go wrong (and do people REALLY expect it expect unforeseen events will VANISH for the next three years??) the GOP doesn’t have that built up reservoir of good will that it could use to weather the figurative or literal storms.
Why? Perhaps some this has to do with the death of consensus — the idea that aggragating interests is vital for a sense of national unity and that compromise (which does NOT mean ALWAYS compromising) that embraces libertarians, social conservatives, and liberals, — and stealing some of your political opposition’s thunder in the process — isn’t necessarily a vice that Bill Bennett would include in his next took (but we have our doubts whether Bennett’s next book will sell as well as his previous ones).
In an age of polarization politics if you’re on top and can stay there you can continue to triumph ….but if things go terribly wrong then there’s no where to go but down…and hope your loyal base will boost you up.
From this Newsweek poll, it seems like Bush’s numbers may go up — but a more fundamental, underlying drip-drip-drip is eating away at some of the pillars that bolster GWB and the GOP.
Can Bush and the GOP strengthen these pillars — or will they let them rot?