- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2001

Two recent polls revealing a slip in President George W. Bush's job approval rating have set off a frenzy within Washington's chattering class and the liberal media, which would be expected. What was unexpected indeed, what certainly seemed to be vastly overreactive, bordering on desperation was the response among Republican congressmen, strategists, Capitol Hill aides and other mostly anonymous whiners who vented their spleens to the New York Times, which, having started the frenzy, was only too happy to keep it going.

According to the New York Times/CBS News poll conducted in mid-June, Mr. Bush's appoval rating declined to 53 percent from 57 percent the month before, while his disapproval rating increased to 34 percent from 30 percent. That is still a healthy 19-point margin, particularly for a successful presidential candidate who the media never tire of reminding us, though not in the context of this 19-point advantage lost the popular vote for president. Trumpeting its poll results in the most prominent space in the paper on its front page above the fold in the right-hand column and coupling those results with multi-colored graphics, the Times news article asserted that "a majority of Americans seem disenchanted by what they view as Mr. Bush's inattention to matters they care most about." The Times' editorial page declared that the poll "shows a White House increasingly and alarmingly out of touch with what Americans are thinking."

A week later, the headline in the Wall Street Journal "Bush's Approval Rating Slips to 50 percent, a 5-Year Presidential Low" reported the results of the poll it underwrites with NBC News. Mr. Bush's disapproval rating was 15 points below his approval rating. Peter Hart, the Democratic pollster who conducts the poll with Republican pollster Robert Teeter, took a look at the results and concluded that Mr. Bush "doesn't have anywhere near the share of the middle he needs to have a governing coalition."

Now, one could respond by playing the "dueling polls" game. Consider, for example, the most recent Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll, which shows a job approval rating of 59 percent, a level that has been exceeded by only two of the eight Fox News polls conducted since the inauguration. Consider also the mid-June poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, which showed Mr. Bush with a 51-31 job-approval rating advantage among independents and a 47-37 advantage among moderates from any party. Among conservative Republicans, his advantage was 87-5. (Those 5 percent evidently are the ones whining to the New York Times.)

One could also respond by quoting Mr. Hart again of a few decades ago. Examining the polling data in front of him, Mr. Hart concluded, "It is good news for the Democrats," who, he said, no longer needed to be timid about the repercussions of "taking on" the president. No, indeed, Mr. Hart observed that congressional Democrats could go after the Republican president "full throttle." Back then Mr. Hart was not talking about Mr. Bush, of course. He was talking about President Reagan, in January 1982 in the midst of the worst postwar recession and nearly three years before Mr. Reagan captured 49 states en-route to landslides in both the electoral college and the popular vote. It was at the very time that Mr. Reagan implored Americans to "stay the course!" The Gipper never wavered, even as his approval ratings bottomed out with the economy. The rest is history, history Mr. Hart will only too painfully recall.

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