Joe Conason's Journal

Polls show that Bush is still in trouble, but you'd never know that by reading today's Washington Post.

Published October 15, 2003 6:20PM (EDT)

Happy faces, lousy numbers
The Bush White House never pays any attention whatsoever to polls, of course, except to spin them madly from time to time. This week's official message is that the president's numbers have suddenly "bounced back" from the steep, sickening dive he experienced during the past few months.

The truth is that some numbers are slightly better in some polls -- including his personal approval rating -- while other numbers remain unimproved or are worse. He's still in trouble.

But today the presidential flacks are getting some assistance from the Washington Post, which headlines its coverage of the latest Post/ABC News survey: "President Rallying Support in Polls." The story leads with the elated response from the poll-free White House at news that the boss' "six-month slide may have ended."

Not everyone shared that optimistic outlook, however. Skeptics include the Post's polling partners over at ABC News, where the headline is "Poll: Bush Slipping." According to ABC:

"Persistent criticism on the economy and his Iraq policy alike are clouding President Bush's political standing, creating vulnerabilities that combine to lock the incumbent and an unnamed Democrat in a dead heat for the 2004 vote.

"Bush's approval rating for handling terrorism more broadly, while still high, now matches his career low. And most continue to disapprove of his handling of the economy, a critical election-year benchmark.

"There are newer troubles as well: More than eight in 10 continue to see the alleged White House leak of a CIA operative's identity as a 'serious matter,' and the number who think the administration is fully cooperating in the investigation has declined to 39 percent. About two-thirds still favor appointment of an outside special counsel to look into the matter."

Much of that information is omitted from the Post story, although the numbers are all available in the poll on the paper's site. Further down in its story the Post does acknowledge that the president faces severe public doubts, amid much happy bluster from the Bushies and the man himself. ("There was a poll that showed me going up yesterday, not to be on the defensive," he told an Australian TV reporter. "Actually, I'm in pretty good shape, politically. I really am. I didn't mean to sound defensive. But I am.")

Polls that offer solace to the Republicans, like the latest released by the Gallup organization, have received considerable coverage. Yet others, such as this one released the other day by Ipsos-Reid, got far less attention. The Ipsos-Reid survey is quite large and comprehensive. What did its pollsters see when they looked at the results from Oct. 7-9?

Bush's total approval rating is at 51 percent, a figure that includes those "leaning" toward approval. Strong approval was registered by 27 percent. His total approval rating is down from 57 percent last August. Those registering disapproval total 46 percent, up from 41 percent in August.

Only 36 percent of 1,000 registered voters said they would definitely vote to "reelect" Bush, down from 42 percent in the same poll last August. Thirty-five percent said they would definitely vote for someone else, while 26 percent were undecided.

Thielmann on CBS tonight
One reason that Bush's ratings are down so far is the increasing inclination of the mainstream media to highlight critical perspectives that were mostly ignored during the drive to war. Tonight CBS's "60 Minutes II" will broadcast an interview with Greg Thielmann, who retired late last year from the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Thielmann says that his former boss Colin Powell misled the world about Iraq's arsenal at the United Nations -- and that the Bush administration distorted intelligence findings to justify war. The former senior intelligence analyst has been saying much the same things for several months, including most recently on PBS's "Frontline," but this may be the first time that Thielmann's calmly devastating critique will reach a mass audience.
[11:30 a.m. PDT, Oct. 15, 2003]

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By Salon Staff

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