Back by unpopular demand

By Eric Boehlert
Published February 14, 2005 4:27PM (EST)

President Bush has gone from first to worst in the polls, although the press has ignored the tumble. Blame it on the less than stellar election results in Iraq, as well as what looks to be a losing argument in the Social Security "crisis" debate.

According to the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted from Feb. 7-10, Bush's approval rating stands at 49 percent, which is dismal for a just-reelected president. By comparison, during the first February of their second term, the most recently re-elected presidents all boasted approval ratings in the 60s'; Richard Nixon (67), Ronald Reagan (60), and Bill Clinton (60).

What's even more shocking is that just days earlier, riding the crest of supposedly good news surrounding the election in Iraq, Bush -- as measured by the very same CNN/USA Today/Gallup polling unit -- posted his best approval ratings in 13 months. For the survey conducted Feb. 4-6, his approval rating shot up to 57 percent; heights Bush hadn't reached since January 2004, and hadn't consistently hit, month-after-month, since the spring of 2003.

Yet the most recent results show Bush's approval ratings cratering eight points to 49 percent and his disapproval ratings spiking 8 points to 48 percent. That's a 16-point swing in less than one week. What happened? It's possible the realization about the vote in Iraq began to set in among voters who grasped that with the overwhelming Shiite coalition victory there's now a distinct possibility of an Iran-friendly Islamic state being established in Baghdad. Hardly the reason why U.S. troops were deployed. Domestically, the hot issue behind Bush's decline was likely Social Security reform, which the president sold hard during his Feb. 2 State of the Union address. Despite that primetime push, and a subsequent White House road show designed to build support, a plurality of Americans, by a margin of 48 to 42 percent, still disapprove of Bush's handling on the issue. That, according to CNN/USA Today/Gallup.

Perhaps a better explanation is that the poll last week that showed Bush earning a 57 percent approval rating -- the poll that generated all sorts of glowing press for the White House -- was a fluke. No other polling outfit that regularly checks the public's pulse on the White House detected that sort of post-inauguration jump for Bush. For instance, according to Newsweek, Bush's approval rating in late December was 49 and in early February was 50. Fox News uncovered the same apathy towards Bush; in early January 52 percent of Americans approved, while today the number has edged down to 51 percent.

Bottom line: Three months after earning his self-proclaimed Election Day mandate, Bush remains an historically unpopular two term president.

Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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