The polls give Bush mixed messages.

Published July 31, 2001 9:28PM (EDT)

Poll watch: Is new Bush negative really "fair"?

The latest Zogby poll had bad news for Bush, with 51 percent of Americans surveyed registering a negative opinion of his job performance, compared to 47 percent who gave the president good marks.

But just how negative is that majority? Unlike many presidential public opinion surveys, Zogby doesn't ask whether its respondents approve or disapprove of Bush's job performance, but rather asks participants to select "excellent," "good," "fair" or "poor" to rate his work. In the Zogby poll conducted from July 26 to 29, 34 percent rated Bush's performance "fair," while 17 percent called it "poor." While that's the first time the president's combined "fair" and "poor" scores topped 50 percent, some of the poll's critics question whether a "fair" rating can automatically be characterized as negative.

Zogby also found that the American public continues to strongly approve of Bush personally, with 57 percent stating that they had a favorable impression of him, compared to 36 percent who declared that they have an unfavorable view of Bush. Though the favorable rating is high, it did slip 3 points from Bush's June mark of 60 percent.

In other public opinion news, Bush has rebounded in the Fox News poll, scoring a 59 percent job approval rating in a survey conducted from July 25 to 26. That's up from the 56 percent approval mark he earned in Fox's mid-July poll, and even with his score in June.

Both the Zogby and Fox polls have a margin of error of 3 points.

Bush job approval

  • 59 percent, Fox News, July 25 to 26
    Up from 56 percent, July 10 to 11

  • 56 percent, CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, July 19 to 22
    Down from 57 percent, July 10 to 11

  • 52 percent, Pew Center, July 18 to 22
    Up from 51 percent, July 2 to 12

  • 55 percent, CNN/Time magazine, July 17 to 18
    Up from 52 percent, May 23 to 24

  • 50 percent, NBC News/Wall Street Journal, June 23 to 25
    Down from 56 percent, April 21 to 23

  • 53 percent, CBS News/New York Times, June 14 to 18
    Down from 57 percent, May 10 to 12

  • 55 percent, ABC News/Washington Post, May 31 to June 3
    Down from 63 percent, April 19 to 22

  • 54 percent, Bloomberg, May 29 to June 3
    Down from 56 percent, April 3 to 8

    -- Alicia Montgomery

    Daily line

    "The president is clear that he believes that fast track should be authorized. It's, again, a good indication of whether Congress will be isolationist or Congress will join with the president, promoting vigorously America's agenda around the world, because we can win on America's agenda in a multilateral world."
    -- White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, discussing Congress' reaction to elements of the president's foreign policy

    Bush buzz

    With new battles with congressional Democrats looming on trade issues, the White House is working to slam trade opponents as "isolationist," a term that Democrats have recently hurled in the president's direction. In his Monday press briefing, Fleischer eight times referred to "isolationist" or "unilateralist" impulses of congressional Democrats to explain their resistance to giving Bush his way on international trade, expressing particular disappointment on the issues of safety standards for Mexican truckers and fast-track trade authority.

    It's no wonder that the president's team wants to make the "isolationist" label work for it, considering how often the label has worked against Bush in the foreign policy arena. European leaders are apparently still smarting from what they perceive as Bush's unwillingness to abide by previously negotiated treaties on issues like global warming and defense. But the Bush team insists that it isn't abandoning the idea of international agreements -- it's just being more careful about which deals it endorses.

    With his month-long summer vacation approaching fast, Bush can't afford to be so picky about which of his administration's legislative victories he touts to the American public. There have been so few. Looking at the top items on the president's wish list, most have been stalled in Congress by the Democratic leadership on the Senate side or the moderate Republican dissenters on the House side.

    The president's faith-based charities initiative, which passed the House last week, is a nonpriority for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. There's been halting progress on Bush's preferred version of the patients' bill of rights, and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., is threatening to table the issue until September. Though both houses of Congress have passed a version of Bush's education reform package, the president's call to have the bill on his desk before the end of this week has been ignored. And the Bush energy reform plan, in which the administration has invested so much political capital and is still trying to push through, has fallen victim to the transfer of power in the Senate and a sharp decline in public alarm over energy.

    The only unqualified victory the president can take into his summer vacation is the passage of his tax cut, and critics are doing their best to dim the glory of that accomplishment. With the first tax rebate checks just hitting American mailboxes, Democrats and deficit hawks are already blaming the Bush tax cut -- along with the sluggish economy -- for disappearing surpluses and the government borrowing that necessarily follows them. Even some Republicans have expressed concern that there won't be enough post-tax-cut money left in the budget to cover the nation's defense needs.

    And the tax cut haunts the widely bashed Social Security review released in draft form last week by a Bush-appointed White House panel. If Social Security is truly in the dire straits that the panel described, one critic offers, then Bush had no business emptying federal coffers for a tax cut before setting aside funds to shore up the federal retirement program.

    In the midst of his policy malaise, Bush will be asked to endorse a package of reforms aimed at avoiding the Election Day debacles that, at least in part, led to his White House victory last year. The suggested changes include making Election Day a federal holiday, preventing media outlets from releasing projected results until after the polls close in the 48 contiguous states and giving states up to $200 million to update voting equipment. The White House is expected to endorse only some of these suggestions.

    If the latest Zogby poll is any indication, Bush needs to start worrying about his own reelection prospects. It's the first major public opinion survey that shows a negative job performance rating for the president, with only 47 percent of respondents giving Bush positive marks, compared with 51 percent giving him a thumbs down. The White House quickly dismissed the poll, citing other surveys that show Bush's approval rating in the mid-50s, and White House spokesman Fleischer said that Zogby is frequently out of line with the prevailing poll wisdom.

    The most famous instance of Zogby's variance with other surveys was its last pre-election poll in November, when Zogby alone predicted that Democrat Al Gore would win the popular vote, which turned out to be true.

    And don't miss the one Bush in the White House who has made a decision on fetal stem cell research. During a Monday interview with CNN, first lady Laura Bush said that she has formed an opinion about whether conducting research on embryonic stem cells is ethical, but she declined to reveal her conclusion. She said that her husband is still struggling with the question.

    And the first lady gave the media mixed marks in respecting her family's privacy, and was especially critical of the coverage of her twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, and their drinking.

    Another powerful woman in Bush's White House just got a new nickname, but not from her boss. A newspaper controlled by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein dubbed National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice "the madwoman of the White House" after she suggested in a CNN interview that the president wouldn't hesitate to use force if Iraq struck out against America.

    Tuesday schedule: In the morning, the president receives a copy of the report of the National Commission on Federal Election Reform from former President Carter. Bush later attends a closed meeting of Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill, and finishes his public engagements by signing an executive order on energy-efficient standby power devices in the Oval Office.

    Vice President Cheney participates in a trade promotion authority luncheon and rally at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

    -- A.M.

    This day in Bush history

    July 31, 1989: Time magazine profiled President Bush's eldest son, George W., also known as "Junior." While the story hinted at a possible future in politics, the younger Bush was concentrating on making a name for himself as a managing partner in the Texas Rangers baseball organization. He particularly enjoyed mingling with the regular people in the stands: "I want the folks to see me sitting in the same kind of seat they sit in," he said, "eating the same popcorn, peeing in the same urinal."

    Twin watch: Late nights with Jenna

    The president's daughter Jenna is reportedly rubbing elbows with Hollywood types as an intern for the Los Angeles entertainment firm of Brillstein-Grey, and she's had mixed luck with a pair of late-night joke jocks she's met in her travels. According to a New York Daily News report, Jenna recently ran into CBS "Late Night" host Craig Kilborn in a Los Angeles bar and asked him to quit making jokes about her. "Sure," he replied. "So, can I buy you a beer now?" (A witness said Jenna didn't drink any alcohol that night.)

    Things went a little more smoothly when Jenna visited the set of "Politically Incorrect" with other Brillstein-Grey interns. Though host Bill Maher regularly shreds Jenna's dad on the program, and has made jokes about Jenna's and twin sister Barbara's problems with booze, everyone on the "Politically Incorrect" set was on his best behavior when she and the other interns stopped by last Tuesday. Members of the staff even removed mocking pictures and caricatures of the president from public view until Jenna left.

    -- A.M.

    Burning Bush

    Links to the Web's best sites for hardcore Bush watchers.

    Send scoops to bushed@salon.com.

    Bushed! contributors: Eric Boehlert, Gary Kamiya, Kerry Lauerman, Alicia Montgomery, Scott Rosenberg, Jake Tapper, Joan Walsh, Anthony York

    Take a look at the previous edition of Bushed!

  • By Salon Staff

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