Bush Approval Ratings Head Into Dangerous Territory

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, May 13, 2004; 10:38 AM

The ugly news out of Iraq is apparently taking its toll on President Bush's approval ratings, with more polls finding that a majority of Americans disapprove of the job he is doing.

Here's the latest crop.

CBSNews.com's David Paul Kuhn reports: "President Bush's overall approval rating has fallen to the lowest level of his presidency, 44 percent, in the latest CBS News poll, reflecting the weight of instability in Iraq on public opinion, despite signs of improvement in the economy."

Kuhn writes that Americans' "opinion of Mr. Bush's handling of the economy is also at an all-time low, 34 percent, while 60 percent disapprove, also a high of the Bush presidency. Increasing employment is seemingly not affecting Americans' view of Mr. Bush's economic policy.

"Just as startling, the poll finds that for the first time a clear majority of Americans disapprove of Mr. Bush's handling of the war in Iraq, believe the United States is not in control of the country and think U.S. troops should turn over power to Iraq as soon as possible, even if the country is unstable."

Here are the complete CBS poll results.

A new poll from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press finds that 44 percent approve of his job performance, while 48 percent disapprove.

"There also has been a sharp rise in the number of Americans who think the military effort in Iraq is going badly. For the first time, a majority of Americans (51%) say the war is not going well and the percentage saying the war was the right decision continues to inch downward."

And yes, the election is still almost six months away, but the signs point to it being a referendum on Bush, even more than a beauty contest -- or, heaven forbid, a plebiscite on the issues.

Pew reports: "Sen. John Kerry holds a 50%-45% lead over Bush in a two-way race, and his lead narrows to 46%-43% when Ralph Nader is included. Most of the president's supporters say they consider their vote as a choice for the president. By contrast, Kerry's supporters by roughly two-to-one (32%-15%) view their vote as one against Bush."

Here is Pew's detailed poll and trend data.

MSNBC.com reports that "President Bush's continuing decline in opinion surveys -- including one released Wednesday -- is a clear warning sign for an incumbent trying to persuade the public to rehire him for four more years, pollsters say."

Pollingreport.com keeps meticulous tabs on Bush's approval ratings.

Anti-Bush bloggers are licking their chops.

Daily Kos has a mostly-printable analysis: "Iraq and the War on Terror initially had nothing to do with each other, regardless of how badly Bush and Wolfowitz and Cheney wanted it so. But the administration did their darndest to link the two, and in reality, the two are now indistinguishable.

"So as Iraq goes to [expletive], so does Bush's terrorism ratings."

One reason for all this: The prison abuse story certainly has dominated the news lately. NBC's David Gregory asks: Has the media gone overboard?

Live Online

You know who's a great person to talk to about all this stuff? The Washington Post's Mike Allen, who will be Live Online at 11 a.m. ET.

Refocusing, but on What?

David E. Sanger and Richard W. Stevenson write in the New York Times: "Speaking briefly on the South Lawn of the White House, Mr. Bush appeared to try to use the beheading of Nicholas Berg, a young Pennsylvania man seeking work rebuilding Iraq, to refocus attention on the nature of the enemy the United States faces rather than on the continuing investigation into the abuses of Iraqi prisoners in American custody.

"But some of Mr. Bush's aides and many of his outside advisers said in interviews that conservatives who had backed the war were now badly fractured on how the administration should pursue its Iraq strategy, and they fear that the combination of the prisoner abuse scandal and the inability of American forces to put down the insurgency are taking a toll on the Bush re-election race."

Here's the text and video of Bush's brief remarks on Berg.

Lessons From Experience

Seven Wall Street Journal reporters hit their Rolodexes, soliciting advice for President Bush from chief executives of big companies, public-relations experts and corporate lawyers who "have also grappled with whether to release bad news at once, or try to contain it, during a crisis."

Some excerpts:

Paul Critchlow (dealt with Enron, Three Mile Island): "I would recommend that they make available all of the photos immediately, let the media decide which of them to publish, and provide as much information as they can, all as quickly as possible."

James Carville (dealt with Clinton): "Unless there is some major public lynching -- and no one short of Rumsfeld seems to qualify -- people are going to be pretty skeptical."

Roger Enrico (ran Pepsi): "When syringes were discovered in cans of Pepsi diet soda [in some 20 states in 1993], we went public with everything we knew immediately."

Bruce Blythe (consults on crisis management): "As long as you are there, the PR will be bad."

And on and on. By and large, they recommended transparency and possibly a resignation.

Anyone in Europe Want to Help?

The Associated Press reports: "The future of Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are among key topics national security adviser Condoleezza Rice will discuss during her trip to Moscow and Berlin, Bush administration officials said Thursday.

"Rice will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Friday. In Germany on Sunday, Rice will meet with her national security counterparts. On Monday, Rice meets with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia -- the first top U.S. official to meet with the Palestinian leader."

Speaking of the Middle East, Steven R. Weisman writes in the New York Times that the Bush administration is pressing ahead with its Greater Middle East Initiative, currently an eight-page draft.

"The administration has said President Bush plans to get some form of the document adopted at the summit meeting of leading industrial nations and Russia, the so-called Group of 8, in June at Sea Island, Ga.

"But European officials familiar with the contents said they expected that in light of widespread outrage over American soldiers' abuse of Iraq prisoners, even this new, toned-down document would have to be revised extensively to make it seem less high-handed and arrogant."

And Glenn Frankel writes in The Washington Post: "Tony Blair's unswerving support for President Bush over Iraq is doing extensive damage to the British prime minister's standing at home and could even lead to his resignation, according to politicians, analysts and polls."

No Succor From the Pope, Either

AFP reports: "Pope John Paul II is expected to warn President George W. Bush when the two men meet on June 4 that his policy in Iraq is wrong and the actions of US troops are damaging efforts to bring religions closer together, a senior Vatican official revealed."

The Picture of Compassion?

In a Los Angeles Times opinion column, Lawrence Weschler notes that the Bush/Cheney Web site's "Compassion Photo Gallery" is basically a bunch of pictures of Bush (and the first lady) with minorities.

"First one up: short-sleeved Bush, holding a black kid in his arms, a bleacher full of black kids behind him, and he's merrily waving to the crowd. Click 'next.' And it's Bush at a Waco Habitat for Humanity building site, his arm draped around a black woman, his other hand tapping the shoulder of another of the black construction volunteers. . . .

"And now, there he is again, reading to a different roomful of black schoolchildren. It's amazing -- photo after photo, 19 in all, and almost every single one of them giving further testimony to the astonishing capaciousness of the guy's Compassion, by which we are given to understand: He just has no trouble at all touching black people! . . .

"Why, the Compassion page even includes a photo of him standing next to his own secretary of State, Colin Powell!"

Gained in Translation

Howard Kurtz writes in The Washington Post: "When President Bush's aides released a television ad Tuesday saying that 'no child in America should be left behind,' it looked to be the first positive spot the campaign had rolled out in weeks.

"Yesterday came the Spanish-language version -- and it packed a far more negative punch."

Here's the ad in English. It ends with this message: "Because no child in America should be left behind."

Here it is in Spanish. Now it ends with this message: "John Kerry: No Tiene Palabra." (John Kerry: Not a man of his word.)

Bush's Women

Mike Allen of The Washington Post writes about the kickoff of a new project of the Bush-Cheney campaign, "W Stands for Women."

"Doro Bush Koch, who founded a Maryland literacy group and is the president's sister . . . pointed to the president's mother, his wife, their twins and various appointees, and drew laughter by saying: 'Our candidate is strong on women's issues, and there can be only one reason why: He's surrounded by strong women.' "

But Allen notes that the new Pew poll shows that "the group has its work cut out. Women who are registered to vote favored Kerry over Bush by 12 percentage points, compared with Kerry's 5-point margin over Bush among all voters. Male voters favored Bush by 4 points."

AIDS Watch

Scott Lindlaw of the Associated Press writes: "President Bush on Wednesday named his acting AIDS adviser, Carol J. Thompson, as head of the Office of National AIDS Policy.

"Bush's first two AIDS advisers, Scott Evertz and Joseph O'Neill, were both male doctors who were openly gay. Thompson, a woman, is not a physician and is heterosexual."

Gas Price Watch

Tom Doggett and Chris Baltimore of Reuters report: "President Bush 'remains concerned about rising gas prices,' White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.

"But the administration has not proposed any short-term solutions to lower gasoline costs.

"Record-high gasoline prices have left Bush exposed to continued drubbing from Kerry, who wants to turn them into a campaign issue."

Today's Calendar

Pete Yost of the Associated Press writes: "A high school in West Virginia, where he is in a close race for the state's five electoral votes, provides the latest forum for President Bush to both promote and defend his record on education."

Ron Hutcheson of Knight Ridder Newspapers writes: "President Bush travels to West Virginia on Thursday to talk about education, but the hot topic in Parkersburg is the trouble in Iraq.

"Bush's visit to Parkersburg South High School comes just five days after this town of 33,000 on the western edge of the state buried its third casualty from the Iraq war."

Bush in Bethesda

Yesterday, Bush went to Bethesda with his education message.

Yost writes: "President Bush defended his education record on Wednesday, saying his insistence that schools demonstrate improvements in student performance in exchange for federal money is building better school systems."

Here's the text of Bush's remarks.

Late Night Humor

From NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno", via Reuters:

"According to a new poll, President Bush's approval rating is at an all-time low but Kerry still can't catch up with him. So people don't like Bush but they don't seem to like Kerry very much either. We have two guys nobody wants to vote for. No wonder we can't sell democracy in Iraq, we can't even give it away here."

And from CBS's "The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn:"

"The prison scandal is really hurting President Bush's poll numbers. In fact, I hear he is already working on his concession smirk."

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