TNS Intersearch poll - - How Vulnerable Are the Republicans - - Still a Prochoice Country

Ralph Johansen michele at
Wed Jan 29 23:31:00 MST 2003


Public Opinion Watch
Week of January 20–24, 2003

By Ruy Teixeira
Public Opinion Watch is a project of The Century Foundation. Nothing written
here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of The Century
Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before

In this edition of Public Opinion Watch:

-         How Vulnerable Are the Republicans?

-         Still a Prochoice Country after All These Years

How Vulnerable Are the Republicans?
TNS Intersearch poll of 1,133 adults for the ABC/Washington Post, released
January 22, 2003 (conducted January 16–20, 2003)
NBC/Wall Street Journal poll of 1,025 adults, released January 23, 2003
(conducted January 19–21, 2003)
CBS/New York Times poll of 997 adults, released January 24, 2003 (conducted
January 19–22, 2003)
Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll of 1,017 adults for Democracy Corps (conducted
January 14–19, 2003) with associated memo and slide show

Surveying the polling data from the period just before the President’s State
of the Union address, it is remarkable how much ground Bush and his
administration appear to be losing. Is this ground that can easily be
regained, or does it signal the emergence of real vulnerability for the

Looking first at the economy, the ABC, NBC, and CBS polls all show Bush’s
approval ratings on the economy in the 43 percent to 44 percent range, with
higher disapproval (49 percent to 53 percent) than approval. In the CBS
poll, just 17 percent think the economy is getting better, while 39 percent
think it is getting worse (44 percent say it is staying the same). In the
same poll, when respondents are asked to compare the economy today to two
years ago, 62 percent say it is worse and only 9 percent say it is better.
Then, when respondents are asked to compare the way things are generally
going in the United States today to five years ago, the results are just as
gloomy: 63 percent say things are worse and a mere 14 percent say things are
better. This is substantially more negative than comparable figures for Bush
’s father in October of 1991 (44 percent worse/19 percent better).

This pessimism is precisely what Bush’s new economic plan, centered around
big tax cuts, was supposed to counteract, of course. But so far the plan has
been received cooly by the public. In both the NBC and Democracy Corp polls,
descriptions of both Bush’s and the Democrats’ economic plans elicit a
preference for the Democrats’ plan.  And the Democracy Corps analysis points
out that Bush’s new plan is producing much less initial sympathy than Bush’s
first tax cut plan did in January of 2001. At that point, 49 percent thought
Bush’s tax cut proposal was good for the middle class and 42 percent though
it was not so good; now, only 37 percent think Bush’s tax cut plan is good
for the middle class and 48 percent believe it is not so good.

Other questions show that:

-         by more than two to one (67 percent to 30 percent), the public
would prefer to have more spending on education, health care, and Social
Security than receive Bush’s proposed tax cut (ABC);

-         61 percent think that the Bush plan will be just somewhat or not
very effective in stimulating the economy (NBC);

-         by almost two to one (59 percent to 31 percent), the public thinks
that the Bush economic plan would benefit mostly the wealthy, not all
Americans (NBC);

-         by 56 percent to 36 percent, the public believes that, if the Bush
plan benefits mostly the wealthy, it will be an ineffective way to stimulate
the economy (NBC); and

-         by 48 percent to 41 percent, the public opposes eliminating the
dividend tax, given the projected cost of $360 billion over ten years (ABC).

These are very weak numbers, given that initial receptions of presidents’
economic plans are typically fairly positive, especially if they involve tax
cuts. Clearly, the Democrats have been able to score points easily on this
particular plan for the simple reason that it just doesn’t sound like a
plausible solution to the economic problems the public has been
experiencing. Therefore, we must conclude that the Republicans are quite
vulnerable indeed on the issue of the economy. If the economy gets
substantially better on its own, of course, this vulnerability may not hurt
them. But if it does not, the Republicans are likely to pay a high price for
their relentless emphasis on tax cuts skewed toward the wealthy in the midst
of an economy that is perceived as performing so poorly by most Americans.

Turning to Iraq and foreign affairs, there is no question that support for
Bush administration policy has been slipping significantly. In the NBC poll,
Bush’s job approval on foreign policy is at 51 percent, down from 57 percent
a month ago. And, in the ABC poll, Bush’s job approval on the situation with
Iraq and Saddam Hussein is at 50 percent, down from 58 percent in

The slippage in job approval is reflected in weakening support for the
general idea of military action against Iraq.  In the ABC poll, 57 percent
now say they support such a move, but that’s down from 62 percent a month
ago.  And, in the NBC poll, 47 percent say they would support military
action against Saddam Hussein at the level of 200,000 American troops, a
decline of eight points from the 55 percent who registered such support last

And that’s just the general idea. When specifics of the Iraq situation are
mentioned, public doubts about administration policy really come to the
fore. By about two to one in the NBC poll, the public favors giving weapons
inspectors more time, rather than taking immediate military action.  Also by
two to one (63 percent to 29 percent), the public believes we should take
military action only with the support of the UN, rather than act without
that support (that’s up from a margin of 55 percent to 35 percent in
December).  By margins of about fifty points, they think the Bush needs to
produce more evidence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, both for our
allies and for the American public, before launching military action.

Questions in other polls confirm the general pattern: the public wants to
give the process more time, is worried the Bush administration wants to move
too fast, wants to see more evidence that would justify military action, and
has a strong preference for multilateral, rather than unilateral, action.
And the public continues to see al Qaeda as a greater threat than Iraq,
despite the administration’s single-minded focus on the Iraq situation. In
the NBC poll, 49 percent say al Qaeda is a very serious threat to the United
States, compared to 38 percent who believe Iraq is.  And, when asked
directly to compare Iraq, North Korea, and al Qaeda, 48 percent say al Qaeda
is the greatest threat, while only 24 percent select Iraq and 16 percent
select North Korea. CBS has a similar result: 46 percent say al Qaeda is the
greatest threat to peace and stability, while 22 percent say Iraq and 16
percent say North Korea.

So the Bush administration is clearly quite vulnerable here as well. They
are pursuing aggressive policies on Iraq the public is very nervous about,
even as they appear to be taking their eye off the ball, in terms of the
greatest threat to the United States, al Qaeda. Unlike with the economy, of
course, the Bush administration does have the power to dramatically alter
short-term public views by actually invading Iraq. That will produce an
immediate “rally ’round the flag” effect that will benefit the

But if the invasion does not go well, or the aftermath is messy, or,
critically, terrorism reemerges in a post-Saddam world, the administration
is likely to see these doubts and concerns come back to haunt them. In that
case, and especially if the economy does not obligingly turn itself around,
the Republicans may be in what the elder Bush once described as “deep

Still a Prochoice Country after All These Years
Harris Interactive poll of 1,010 adults for Time/CNN, released January 17,
2002 (conducted January 15–16, 2003)
Lydia Saad, “Roe v. Wade Has Positive Public Image,” Gallup News Service,
January 20, 2003
TNS Intersearch poll of 1,133 adults for the ABC/Washington Post, released
January 22, 2003 (conducted January 16–20, 2003)
NBC/Wall Street Journal poll of 1,025 adults, released January 23, 2003
(conducted January 19–21, 2003)

We have just observed the thirtieth anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade
Supreme Court decision that declared abortion legal in the first three
months of pregnancy.  Linked to this anniversary, several polling
organizations have revisited the abortion issue, allowing us to see whether
and how much sentiment about abortion has changed in recent years.

By and large, these survey results suggest that America remains, broadly, a
prochoice country. In the Gallup results reported by Lydia Saad, Americans
view Roe v. Wade as a good, rather than bad, thing for the country by a
twenty-three-point margin (53 percent to 30 percent). The Gallup poll also
shows that the public believes abortion should generally be legal during the
first three months of pregnancy—the subject of the Roe v. Wade decision—by a
wide margin (66 percent to 29 percent). Only 18 percent are for banning
abortion, while 24 percent believe abortion should be legal under any
circumstances. The rest believe abortion should be legal under most
circumstances (14 percent) or only in a few circumstances (42 percent).

The NBC poll gauged support for abortion rights in a different manner and
found 59 percent saying that the choice on abortion should be left up to the
woman and her doctor and 29 percent saying abortion should only be legal in
cases of rape, incest or risk to the mother’s life.  Just 9 percent said it
should be illegal in all circumstances.

The ABC and Time/CNN polls asked directly about support for the Roe v. Wade
decision and found 54 percent to 44 percent and 55 percent to 40 percent
support, respectively. In addition, the NBC poll asked whether the Supreme
Court should reverse Roe v. Wade and found strong opposition to this course
(58 percent opposed to 35 percent in favor).

These polls generally find that support for abortion rights, however
measured, has remained very steady since 1995. Looking before 1995, some
polls suggest that today’s levels of prochoice sentiment are somewhat less
those in the 1990–95 time period.  But other polls tell a different story.
The ABC poll, for example, finds direct support for Roe v. Wade to be less
now than in 1993, when it was measured at 65 percent to 33 percent.  On the
other hand, the NBC poll finds a slight increase in opposition to reversing
Roe v. Wade over about the same period. They asked the same question in 1992
(though among registered voters) and found 56 percent opposed to reversal
and 38 percent in favor.

The Gallup poll question above on circumstances when abortion should be
legal (all, most, a few or none at all) also finds evidence of some
diminution in support for abortion rights since a peak in the 1990–95 time
period. But the NBC question on whether abortion should be left up to the
women and her doctor shows very little change over the same period.

Regardless, however, of how much change there’s been since the early 1990s,
all of these polls agree there has been very little change since the
mid-1990s.  They tell us we remain a prochoice country—that is, a country
that is generally pleased with the legacy of Roe v. Wade and does not wish
to reverse it. Those wishing to move the Supreme Court in the opposite
direction, take note.

Ruy Teixeira is a Senior Fellow at The Century Foundation.

Public Opinion Watch covers newly released polls, as well as key newspaper
and magazine articles that make use of polling data.  If you’ve ever
wondered what to make of the blizzard of survey data covered in the
newspapers--and whether the newspapers themselves know what they’re talking
about--you’ll want to check out this feature on a regular basis.  Each
edition will combine noteworthy findings and trends from the latest polling
data with analysis of the misinterpretations and misrepresentations to which
polling data are so often subject.

The Century Foundation, formerly the Twentieth Century Fund, a research
foundation that undertakes timely and critical analyses of major economic,
political, and social institutions and issues.  Nonprofit and nonpartisan,
TCF was founded in 1919 and endowed by Edward A. Filene.

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