Inaugural polls: We don't know what to think


Geraldine Sealey
January 20, 2005 7:54PM (UTC)

We have more numbers to ponder on this morning of the inauguration -- more polls showing just how divided, mixed -- schizo, if you will -- the American people are heading into George W. Bush's second term. First off, there's the almost comical split on whether we are split or will be even more split in the near future. Nearly half of those polled by the New York Times said that a second Bush term would divide Americans. Then you get into this perplexing stat: Sixty percent, according to the Times, are optimistic heading into Bush's second term. If you read the fine print, that number makes little sense.

Majorities of these otherwise "optimistic" folk also disapprove of pretty much everything Bush is doing and think nothing will change for the better anytime soon. Majorities reject Bush's handling of the economy and Iraq; two-thirds think Bush will leave us with an even larger deficit than he did the first time around; and majorities say they expect no improvement in health care, education, or reducing drug costs for the elderly in the next four years. This is what we're optimistic about? Talk about setting the bar low. For the record, the people polled by the Wall Street Journal and NBC seemed less Pollyannaish: Less than half are hopeful about the next four years, and 58 percent expressed little confidence in the president's policies.

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As for Bush's "mandate," which he famously claimed after his narrow win in November, the American people are even more sure now than they were a few months ago that he won no such thing, and, specifically, that his election win didn't give him the right to barge ahead with his Social Security privatization plan. According to the WSJ/NBC poll, 56 percent said he had no mandate to pursue his Social Security proposal.

The Social Security numbers in both polls, actually, are pretty interesting. In the Times poll, only 3 percent -- three -- named Social Security as an important problem facing the country. In the Journal poll, only 14 percent agreed with Bush that the system is "in crisis." And half of all Americans -- and one-third of Republicans -- called it "a bad idea" to privatize Social Security. At the same time, though, the majority polled by the Times, 70 percent, had no doubt Bush will succeed in changing the Social Security system. Do they want him to succeed in those efforts? It seems not, but if there's one thing Bush was good at in his first term, it was getting his way, and Americans seem resigned that the second term will be no different.

There's a similar phenomenon taking place with abortion -- according to the Times, 71 percent expect Bush to appoint Supreme Court justices who will vote to outlaw abortion, and 43 percent expect most forms of abortion to be illegal by the time he leaves office. Yet, 71 percent want to keep abortion legal in some form. So, similar to Social Security, Americans expect Bush to instigate major changes on abortion rights that are against the will of the people. Something to feel "optimistic" about heading into "W2"? Not in these parts.


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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