Bush Poll Numbers Sink to 10-Year Low

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President Bush's approval rating has sunk to 39 percent, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey. The poll also finds that only 28 percent of Americans think the country is on the right track. Alex Chadwick speaks to Wall Street Journal reporter John Harwood about the president's poll numbers — the lowest of his administration, and the lowest of any president in the past 10 years.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, a New Orleans family calculates the risk in deciding what to do next.

First, the lead. Political risk for the presidency of George Bush and for the Republican Party. A new poll from The Wall Street Journal and NBC News finds Mr. Bush's standing at an all-time low: 39 percent approval. John Harwood wrote about the poll for this morning's Journal.

John, welcome to the program.

Mr. JOHN HARWOOD (The Wall Street Journal): Glad to be here.

CHADWICK: You begin with the public views of Mr. Bush's appointments based, I suppose, on the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. And what did the figures show, the public's view of Mr. Bush's appointments?

Mr. HARWOOD: It's fascinating, Alex. What we find is that the shadow of Michael Brown, the FEMA director who got so much criticism over his handling of Hurricane Katrina, is hanging over this Supreme Court confirmation process. A majority of Americans says the president values friendship and party loyalty over competence and qualifications in his appointments, and we see that reflected in the very lackluster support for Harriet Miers.

CHADWICK: Her ratings qualified vs. unqualified, the findings there? This is in the view of the American public.

Mr. HARWOOD: A slight plurality says that Harriet Miers is qualified: 29 percent. 24 percent say she's unqualified. A majority says they need to know more information about her. But what's striking in those numbers is that proportion--nearly one in four--saying she's unqualified is the highest of any of the other court nominees that we've seen in the past two decades. Robert Bork had 12 percent saying he was unqualified, Sandra Day O'Connor 4 percent. So it's a much, much difference performance and a higher level of skepticism about Harriet Miers, although the jury's still out to some degree and she and the president can do some persuading.

CHADWICK: I know a lot of people are going to be interested in looking at these figures. Republican political leaders, I think, especially will find them disquieting because you also asked people, `Which party do you think should be running things? Which party is better suited to getting us out of the problems that the American public perceives?'

Mr. HARWOOD: We see that the Democratic Party by a 48-to-39 margin has the advantage in terms of who Americans want to control Congress after the 2006 elections. That's the largest advantage that either party has enjoyed on that question in more than 10 years in our poll. And the effect of that, Alex, is that it takes what has been a rather narrow playing field of seats in the '06 elections and widens that field and increases the Democrats' chances of actually picking up the 15 seats they need to get a majority.

CHADWICK: Do you find any sign that people actually like the Democrats or are they just tired of the Republicans?

Mr. HARWOOD: Well, it's mostly the latter. The Democratic Party's image has not recently improved from September, and we see very tepid support for the Democratic Party in terms of how it's viewed. The Republican Party, though, is viewed negatively by the American public, and they've got bigger problems, not just on issues but also on the ethics front. And we see that Tom DeLay and Bill Frist, both Republican leaders, under some question. Majorities of Americans in both cases say they see potential illegal activity there and that it's not just normal partisan politics.

CHADWICK: Let me just add this. The president's approval rating, 39 percent, lowest you've ever found, but that is within the margin of error for this poll. So maybe there is no trend for Mr. Bush. Maybe this is the bottom.

Mr. HARWOOD: Well, the trend, Alex, is that he has settled in at a lower level than he was--significantly lower level than he was when he started his second term. He was at 50 percent in January. And what this 39 percent tells you is nothing profound from September, but it shows that the repeated trips that he's made to the Gulf Coast have simply not been able to turn around perceptions that are colored not just by Katrina but also by fears about gas prices and concerns about the Iraq War.

CHADWICK: Wall Street Journal reporter John Harwood. John, thank you.

Mr. HARWOOD: You bet.

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