Bush's approval ratings drop

Posted: Thursday, July 25, 2002

WASHINGTON -- President Bush's approval rating has slipped to the mid-60s amid growing nervousness about the economy.

The president's sky-high post-Sept. 11 ratings above 70 percent lasted for more than 10 months. His father, George H.W. Bush, had similarly high approval ratings during the Persian Gulf War but they evaporated in an economic downturn and foreshadowed his defeat in 1992.

A bit of a fade is inevitable, analysts say. ''One way to put it is that the law of gravity wasn't repealed,'' political scientist David Rohde of Michigan State University said Tuesday.

The younger Bush's ratings had hovered just above 70 percent in most polls for the past few months. Now polls by Newsweek and CBS News show his job approval at 65 percent and an Ipsos-Reid poll done for the Cook Political Report and an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll have him at 67 percent.

''There's been unrelieved bad news for the past several weeks,'' said Thomas Riehle, president of Ipsos-Reid Public Affairs, ''so a lot of what's happened has occurred in the weeks from the end of June until today.''

The timing of Bush's return to a more normal -- though still high -- rating was predicted months ago by Matthew Dowd, pollster for the Republican National Committee.

Dowd sent a message to Republican activists during the spring predicting the president's rating ''should return to a new normal'' -- possibly in the 60s -- by the end of July, if historical patterns proved true. He wrote a memo Tuesday to Republican activists reminding them of the prediction and saying the drop was predictable and the result of a natural fade and the defection of Democrats. The CBS poll showed much of the drop came from independents and Democrats, but not Republicans.

Republican strategist Rich Galen said the current polls aren't that important but the trend over the next few months will be.

Bush's ratings soared to 90 percent and stayed high for an extraordinary period ''because the war on terrorism was going pretty well as far as people could tell,'' political scientist Rohde said.

''Now things are going worse on the domestic front, particularly with the economy and the stock market,'' Rohde said. Bush has a cushion, however, he said, adding: ''His ratings now are higher than they would have been if there hadn't been a Sept. 11.''

At this point in their presidencies, people were about evenly split on approving of Ronald Reagan, two thirds approved of the elder President Bush and people disapproved of Bill Clinton's job performance by a 42-49 margin.

Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said Tuesday the House was not worried about the new poll numbers.

''The president does what he thinks is right based on the merits,'' Fleischer said. He said Wednesday: ''By many of the measures that you're seeing, the public continues to have large support (of) the president's handling of the economy, domestic issues, and strongly approves of the job he's doing.''

Pollsters had predicted a gradual defection of Democrats and some independents would pull Bush's numbers down.

''It was inevitable,'' said Evans Witt, president of Princeton Survey Research Associates, which handles the Newsweek poll. ''This has been a completely consistent, steady decline since the events of Sept. 11, when Americans rallied around their president in the face of a great tragedy and a great challenge.''

Witt said Bush's ratings remain high because of two factors -- strong ratings on the war and heavy support from Republicans.

Republican approval of the president remains near nine in 10, while independents are at almost two-thirds and Democrats have fallen to about half in recent polls, according to a recent analysis by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

The public's view of the economy has become more closely linked to the fortunes of the stock market as more people have investments both directly and through retirement plans, Pew found in an earlier analysis.

Nervousness about the economy can be found in recent surveys about the direction of the country. That measure fell significantly in recent weeks in surveys by Ipsos-Reid. The contest for Congress between Democrats and Republicans has remained very close in most polls.

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