- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2003

A clear majority of Americans now approve of President Bush’s leadership on the economy, a poll released yesterday showed.

Registered voters are increasingly confident about the economy, with 55 percent saying they approve of Mr. Bush’s efforts, up from 46 percent last month, according to a Dec. 15-17 Associated Press-Ipsos survey. Forty-three percent disapprove, an 8 percentage-point drop from last month’s mark of 51 percent.

The findings echo other major polls released in the last few days, and pollsters agreed the news should bring cheer to the White House, whose tax cuts and efforts to keep interest rates low are credited with spurring the country’s economic outlook.

“It is nothing but good news for the Bush administration,” said Gallup Poll President Frank Newport. “Its only concern is that the economy may be peaking too early.

“No question the perception of the economy is fundamental to an incumbent’s re-election. The last two who failed to get re-elected — Jimmy Carter and the first President Bush — were harpooned by the public’s perception of a bad economy.”

Politically for Mr. Bush and his yet-to-be-determined Democratic challenger, the most important finding in the latest AP survey is that Americans feel more secure about their jobs — and upbeat about the economy.

The AP poll, released yesterday, comes less than a month before the official beginning of the presidential primary season, and its results lend some credence to Bush supporters who say that, barring an unexpected setback, the once-struggling economy is off the table as an issue for the Democrats in the 2004 presidential election.

If so, that would leave terrorism, the war in Iraq and social issues such as health care as the probable battlegrounds for November 2004.

But neither analysts nor all Republicans agree that the economy is no longer an issue.

“Suburbanites are afraid of losing jobs now, so the economy is very much on the table,” said pollster John Zogby. “There is a disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street.”

A Dec. 11-14 Gallup poll found that 60 percent of voters said economic conditions in the country were getting better, compared with just 32 percent who thought they were getting worse. Nevertheless, a large majority of those who saw it worsening, 63 percent, rated economic conditions as poor.

Despite good news about the growth in output and new jobs, “economic issues are not yet completely off the table for next year,” said Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican.

Mixed up with the economy is the massive new Medicare prescription-drug entitlement endorsed by Mr. Bush and passed by Congress, which rankles many Republicans, especially conservatives, according to Mr. Ney.

“Health care — its unavoidability — is by far the hottest topic here in Ohio — aside from our getting [deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein],” he said.

Analysts agree that a problem for any incumbent president is the lag between economic recovery and the public’s perception of it.

“At this time 12 years ago, there was talk of recovery, and by spring of 1992, we were in recovery — but the public mind-set wasn’t there,” Mr. Zogby said. For the first President Bush, the economy should have been off the table, but wasn’t because of a lag between the recovery and the public’s perception of it.

“In our latest poll, one in five voters told us he was afraid of losing his job in 12 months,” Mr. Zogby said.

Mr. Bush’s advisers aren’t taking the economy or the war on terror for granted. Their internal warnings predict a close contest with only 5 percent or 6 percent of voters in the “swing” or undecided column just before the election. How many of these votes will turn on the economy, foreign policy or social issues is difficult to predict.


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