Can 'Bush Push' Reverse the Polls?
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
The Bush Administration says they neither watch nor respond to polls. But members of the President's party, who are increasingly nervous about the fall election, do. So how is it going, the push to win back the hearts and minds of a majority of Americans on Iraq?
Frank Newport is the executive editor of the Gallop Poll. He joins us from his office in Princeton, New Jersey.
Welcome to the program.
Mr. FRANK NEWPORT (Executive Editor, Gallop Poll): Thank you.
WERTHEIMER: Let's just set a benchmark here. The President's standing in the polls before he began this most recent speaking tour was the lowest of his presidency, I believe. How low?
Mr. NEWPORT: His approval ratings have been in the 36, 37, 38 percent range now over the last three or four Gallop polls that we have conducted. And actually, that's about where he was, interestingly enough, early last November. And he regained a little of that after Thanksgiving with his push number one, we might call it, on Iraq. So I think that might be what's giving the White House some encouragement that push number two may produce the same result.
WERTHEIMER: With the President's standing in the polls being relatively low and staying there for months on end, does there finally get to be a point of no return when it begins to appear that the American people have just made up their minds about the President, and they're not likely to change their minds? Or do you think the President or possibly as you just said, events could still change things?
Mr. NEWPORT: Well, absolutely events could change things. If there is something dramatic that happens around the world, there would be a change in the President's approval rating. Even if it's a terrible event that occurs, there probably would be at least a short-term rally effect, which has happened as long as we've been doing polling.
With that said, as a president moves into a second term, it's more difficult I think for these types of low numbers to move. We've got three examples of second-term presidents, other than the current one who, have been in the 30 percent range in their second term, and that was Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. And all three of those Presidents kind of limped out of office thereafter; none of those three recovered to any significant degree.
WERTHEIMER: Do you think that the President's slipping in the polls, his approval rating going down, does that mean that people don't trust him anymore?
Mr. NEWPORT: We do ask dimensions of the President in our polls. And one of those is, is he trustworthy and honest, can he manage government effectively and so forth. We have found, in fact, that along with his approval ratings going down, his ratings on honesty and trustworthiness have fallen concomitantly. So have his ratings on most other dimensions. So I would say at this point that it's a package deal.
WERTHEIMER: So does that tell you anything about the, the mid-term elections? Do you think members of Congress have any, have any reason to sort of take hope or the opposite of hope from these polls?
Mr. NEWPORT: Well, it depends on which members, absolutely. Republican members of Congress at this point should be dramatically worried based on everything we're looking at. When we simply ask Americans who they would vote for in their district, Democrats now have a 15 and 16-point lead and that's as a big of a lead as we've seen in many, many years. You have to go back to 1994 to find that. The overall approval of Congress is now down into the 20 percent range, and when that happens we found historically there's a turnover more likely than not with those kind of low numbers. So Republicans have a lot to be worried about if these same trends continue through to next November, absolutely.
WERTHEIMER: Well, let's look at some of the kind of finer details of this thing. There seems to be a difference in tone from last year to this in the Resident's presentation on Iraq. He is not claiming that despite everything we see and read that things are fine. He's saying that things will be fine down the road, but it seems that his speeches are a bit more in tune with the news we get from Iraq. Do you think that helps his credibility? Does it have an affect?
NEWPORT: It may help his credibility to some degree. Obviously, that was true in Vietnam and true now. You can't have a President saying everything's rosy when Americans see differently on the nightly news or hear differently on radio. I think to some degree, however, the President's still fundamentally addressing the wrong issues though. He said the other day in West Virginia, for example, the fundamental question is, can we win in Iraq? I don't think that's the fundamental question for Americans at all. Are we better off in the United States? That's the fundamental issue. Sixty percent of Americans simply say it's not worth it for the U.S. to have been involved and our data show Americans are concerned about things like the image of the U.S. around the world, and domestic programs and a variety of other things that they associate with the Iraq war.
WERTHEIMER: I'm making the assumption, I hope you'll tell me if I'm wrong, that it is Iraq that is leading the President's decline in the polling that you're doing.
NEWPORT: Yes. I don't want to forget the economy. Presidential approval ratings are affected by foreign policy issues and the economy, and right now Americans are dour on the economy. Despite some positive indicators from the stock market and job reports and what have you, Americans come back and tell us the economy's getting worse, not better. So there's an underpinning of concern about economic issues, and that includes healthcare, healthcare, healthcare and then healthcare, which is also not helping the President and Republicans, in addition to concerns about Iraq.
WERTHEIMER: Frank Newport is Executive Editor of the Gallup Poll. He joined us from Gallup's offices in Princeton, New Jersey. Frank Newport, thank you so much.
NEWPORT: My pleasure.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.