[Marxism] New Poll Puts Bush Down, but Not Out

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Thu Jul 1 07:39:15 MDT 2004

(For all the erosion he has suffered, Mr. Bush 
is tied with Mr. Kerry at 47% in a two-way 
matchup. When independent Ralph Nader is 
included, Mr. Bush holds the narrowest of leads: 
45% to 44%, with Mr. Nader drawing 4% of the vote.)

New Poll Puts Bush
Down, but Not Out

Months of Setbacks Erode Support, Yet
President Still Remains Deadlocked with Kerry
July 1, 2004; Page A4

WASHINGTON -- Midway through a dismal election year, President Bush finds the underpinnings of his political support badly eroded. But they haven't collapsed.

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll documents the toll that months of setbacks have taken on the president's standing. A majority of Americans say that the Iraq war has increased terrorist threats, not reduced them, and that the U.S. economy is headed for long-term trouble. More voters want Mr. Bush defeated than want him re-elected.

Yet he remains deadlocked with Democratic challenger John Kerry, and can even nurse hopes of a rebound before the Nov. 2 election. Recent job gains have left Americans slightly less gloomy about Mr. Bush's economic stewardship. Voters applaud this week's handover of power in Iraq and look forward to the departure of U.S. troops, notwithstanding doubts that a post-Hussein Iraq is ready to rule itself.

See the latest results of The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll2.
"He goes into the summer period down, but not out," says Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted the Journal/NBC survey along with the organization of his late Republican counterpart, Robert Teeter. Even after a wave of political adversity, Mr. Hart adds, "There's a whole lot of election out ahead of us."

The president's campaign says he is already bouncing back from his late-May low point, after the full force of the Iraqi prisoner-abuse scandal depressed the national mood and Mr. Bush's standing in tandem. But campaign officials concede that the picture will get worse once again before it gets better.

By the end of the Democratic convention late this month, Bush advisers say, the traditional "bounce" will leave Mr. Kerry with a national lead of 10 percentage points or more. Then, they argue, the president will begin to climb back -- initially because convention bounces tend to wear off at the rate of one percentage point a week and later from favorable publicity for Mr. Bush's own convention a month later. At that session in New York, just days before the third anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Mr. Bush will have the chance to fill in the blanks for voters about his second-term agenda, which is expected to include overhauling Social Security and expanding health-care coverage.

"After our convention....this race is basically tied," says Bush strategist Matthew Dowd.

In the fall, Bush advisers count on benefiting from several favorable developments. One is the continuing effect of their attacks on what they say are Mr. Kerry's flip-flops. By 38% to 37%, the Journal/NBC poll shows, voters split on whether Mr. Kerry is "consistent" and "stands up for his beliefs." A second is Mr. Bush's ability to score points in the three fall debates, as he did in 2000 against Al Gore. Starting early to raise expectations for Mr. Bush's opponent, Mr. Dowd calls Mr. Kerry "as strong a debater as has run for president" since the televised face-offs began in 1960.

Finally, Mr. Bush's advisers hope to profit from voters' inherent caution about switching presidents in hard times.

Mr. Bush may need all those advantages and more, because the Journal/NBC poll shows that he has fallen to dangerously low levels on a series of pivotal indicators.

Mr. Bush's 45% job-approval rating matches Gerald Ford's at a similar point in 1976; since the advent of modern polling, the only White House incumbent who has survived a midsummer rating that low was Harry Truman in 1948. Mr. Bush's standing has dropped by nine percentage points since January. The survey of 1,025 voters, conducted June 25-28, has a margin of error of three percentage points in either direction.

Mr. Bush's handling of terrorism -- which Americans applauded by 2 to 1 in January -- now splits the electorate with 48% approval, 47% disapproval. An identical 48% plurality of Americans says the nation has gotten on "the wrong track. In January a 47% plurality said the nation was headed in "the right direction."

On Iraq, the issue voters rate most important, the poll results are especially worrisome for the president. Though 56% of voters continue to approve of Mr. Bush's decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, a 51% majority now says the war hasn't been worth its human and financial costs.

An equivalent majority says the threat of terrorism against the U.S. has increased, not decreased, because of the war. And by a 53%-42% margin, voters say Mr. Bush "exaggerated information" to make the case for war, underscoring the toll on his credibility from the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, among other controversies.

But the survey also points to the president's potential advantages. For all the erosion he has suffered, Mr. Bush is tied with Mr. Kerry at 47% in a two-way matchup. When independent Ralph Nader is included, Mr. Bush holds the narrowest of leads: 45% to 44%, with Mr. Nader drawing 4% of the vote.

Moreover, there is ample evidence that Mr. Kerry's attempt to introduce himself to the public through a springtime advertising blitz has borne little fruit. His 40%-35% favorable-unfavorable ratio is actually worse than it was in March, while the number of Americans who say they know "a fair amount" or "a lot" about him has declined to 57% from 68% over the same period.

"John Kerry's numbers...are really stagnant," Mr. Hart says, with even many members of his own party reserving judgment about his candidacy.

As a consequence, Mr. Bush enjoys greater intensity of support within his base than his challenger does. Fully 80% of those now favoring Mr. Bush say they will "definitely vote for" him; 64% of Mr. Kerry's backers say their decision is fixed.

Strategists in both campaigns concede that real-world events will be most important in shaping attitudes toward both candidates. On the economy, those events are now flowing in Mr. Bush's direction with the addition of more than 1 million payroll jobs in 2004 alone.

By a 57%-34% margin, Americans see trouble in the future from lost jobs, high budget deficits, and lack of health insurance. But their assessments of the current economy-and Mr. Bush's performance on the issue-have slightly improved. Some 45% approve of how Mr. Bush has handled the economy, up from 41% in May; a 49% plurality disapproves, down from 53%.

On Iraq, the poll shows a nation eager to turn the page, suggesting an opportunity for Mr. Bush to do the same. Fully three-fourths of voters approve the transfer of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government, even though by 50%-31% they say Iraqis aren't ready to govern themselves. If they fail, 74% of Americans say, the U.S. government should let Iraqis handle the mess by themselves rather than take back control.

Write to John Harwood at john.harwood at wsj.com3 

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