- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 14, 2002

Republican activists have been told to expect President Bush's high job-approval polling scores to "fall back to more realistic levels" during the next several months.
In a memorandum to party officials around the country, Republican National Committee pollster Matthew Dowd said it was impossible for Mr. Bush to maintain his extraordinarily high public-approval numbers, now in the upper 70s, as the election battles heat up and partisan divisions begin to shrink his broad public support.
Mr. Bush's ratings, reflecting his handling of the war against terrorism after the September 11 attacks that killed more than 3,000 people, have lasted longer than those of any previous president nearly 17 weeks. "The previous record for a president was seven weeks," Mr. Dowd said.
"Looking at history, if President Bush follows a normal historical pattern, his approval rating should return to a 'new normal' within 46 weeks from that date, or the end of July 2002," he said.
Mr. Dowd, who was Mr. Bush's chief pollster in the 2000 election campaign, said that "over the coming weeks and months the president's numbers will continue to drift downward as the November elections near, and, as a result, Democratic partisans return to a normal disapproval pattern."
"This movement downward has begun," he said, "and will continue to fall absent some unforseen dominating event."
He added, "Since Democratic partisans account for approximately 40 percent of the electorate, this by itself could return the president's approval numbers into the 60s."
Mr. Dowd's memorandum was sent out Friday after a USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll published Wednesday showed Mr. Bush's approval rating had fallen to 76 percent, from 79 percent the week before.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll taken April 5 to 7 found that 74 percent approved of Mr. Bush's job performance, down from 82 percent in January. The 8-percentage-point fall was fueled by a drop in foreign-policy backing, which dropped to 68 percent from 81 percent in January. On domestic issues, Mr. Bush's approval rating was 59 percent.
Republican officials said the memo was written because of concerns that the shift in public opinion in an election year might be misinterpreted by the general public.
"His point is that you have 40 percent of Americans who are Democrats, partisan Democrats. Therefore, at some point, based on sheer gravity alone, the president's numbers are going to come down," RNC spokesman James Dyke said.
Another senior party official, who did not want to be identified, said Mr. Dowd's memo was an "effort to educate the party about what we see happening in the next several months" and that it shouldn't be a cause for concern.
Polling strategists said the unusual memo to grass-roots activists was initiated by the White House as a pre-emptive move.
"It is to the White House's advantage to create a realistic set of expectations for the president. No sense bragging, 'Hey, this guy is going to stay in the 70s and 80s.' Better to low-ball it and hope that he surpasses that threshold," pollster John Zogby said.
"When your numbers jump to the mid-80s, that includes a lot of people who are fundamentally not a part of your election-winning constituency," he said, adding that virtually all of the erosion was "coming from the left, liberals and Democrats who support the war effort. And that's predictable."

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