ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
The presidential popularity plunge is the biggest of 10 top public opinion trends of 2005, according to Andrew Kohut, who's director of The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
Good to see you again, Andy.
Mr. ANDREW KOHUT (Director, The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press): Happy to be here.
SIEGEL: Second terms are often the stuff of presidential frustration and the loss of a following in Congress. But this first year of George W. Bush's second term, it stands out.
Mr. KOHUT: It certainly has been a frustrating year for the president. He started with a modest 50 percent approval rating. That fell as low as 36 percent; 35 percent in many of the polls in November of this year, compared to Ronald Reagan, who was at 60 percent, and President Clinton, who was at 55 percent at a comparable point in their second terms. That's very low. It's dangerously close to where Richard Nixon was in 1973 as he was falling down the Watergate hole.
The president has been very much criticized for his handling of Katrina, for Iraq, for rising gasoline prices and people's economic concerns. None other than the FOX News poll found the plurality of respondents saying they thought that Santa should put President Bush on his naughty list, not on his nice list. And this is very different than last year when most FOX respondents said President Bush should be on the nice list, not the naughty list.
SIEGEL: Now I think we've got to say three, perhaps more, big public opinion trends that you cite and leave the rest for our listeners to find at our Web site, npr.org. But on to trend number two that you identified, which was hurricane blowback.
Mr. KOHUT: Public was very, very unhappy about the way the government generally, the federal government specifically and, in particular, President Bush handled the response to Katrina: too little, too late; could have done more. Even 45 percent of Republicans, who are so loyal and so enthusiastic about President Bush, said he could have responded more quickly and done a better job there. Many Americans were embarrassed by what they saw in New Orleans. They thought that Homeland Security, FEMA and the president of the United States let them down and let the city of New Orleans and Mississippi and Alabama down in responding to that crisis.
SIEGEL: In third place among public opinion trends on your list is what you call Iraq disillusionment.
Mr. KOHUT: The public has judged the situation there as not going well. More and more Americans have died. The public has judged--sees us as losing ground in dealing with possibilities of a civil war. They think that we're losing ground with respect to Iraqi casualties, let alone American casualties. There was some optimism as a consequence of the election, some sense that maybe democracy might take hold there. But still there's a lot of pressure to set a schedule to get troops out, and the American public doesn't want to see an open-ended commitment there. And Iraq has taken a toll on the president's approval ratings.
SIEGEL: Now apart from these trends and others that you cite that add up to a very skeptical view of Washington, there's something else that sort of comes from a different corner of public opinion. And I'd like you to talk about what you list as your trend number eight in public opinion 2005: evolution, devolution.
Mr. KOHUT: Well, we found a slim plurality of the American public saying that they believe life began as a consequence of evolution vs. creationism; the margin was 48 to 42. But even when we probed the 48 percent, as many as 18 percent of the 48 percent thought that there was--the hand of God was behind the evolution, something akin to intelligent design. So if you add the 18 percent who opt for intelligent design and the 42 percent who opt for creationism as an explanation for life, you have 60 percent of the American public putting God in--as causal to the origins of life on Earth.
SIEGEL: God has not suffered a huge popularity plunge.
Mr. KOHUT: He has not. In fact, these numbers are unchanged, not the intelligent design questions because we've only been asking about them recently. But the relatively narrow margin, 48 to 42, evolution vs. creationism--that hasn't changed in years. That's been the division of opinion on this question for some time--very close.
SIEGEL: That's Andrew Kohut, director of The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. And, as we mentioned, a list of the top 10 public opinion trends of 2005, as Andy has found them to be, is at our Web site, npr.org.
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