- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2003

President Bush's overall job-approval rating has fallen below 60 percent for the first time since the September 11 terrorist attacks, a new Gallup poll found.
But the survey also showed the public favoring 49 percent to 44 percent the Bush proposal to eliminate taxing stock dividends. His overall economic plan also was favored by the public 42 percent to 37 percent.
The drop in Mr. Bush's rating coincides with the administration's moderating its initially tough stand against North Korea's nuclear weapons development, even as the United States accelerates its military buildup for a possible war with Iraq.
The Friday-through-Sunday poll of 1,002 adults, released yesterday, found 58 percent approved of Mr. Bush's overall performance in office and 37 percent disapproved.
That approval rating is down 5 percentage points from the same poll last week.
"The decline is not significant except for the symbolic value of dropping below 60 percent" Gallup Editor in Chief Frank Newport said in an interview. "The president appears to be moving toward the average 55 percent job approval for all presidents since Harry Truman."
The latest dip for Mr. Bush also coincides with the onset of the 2004 presidential election cycle, when Republicans and Democrats tend to revert to their respective partisanships.
"At this time last year, Bush's job approval was in the 80s, with 69 percent of Democrats and 98 percent of Republicans approving," Mr. Newport said. "Now only 26 percent of Democrats approve, which is much more normal."
At 58 percent, his current approval rating is down by a significant 10 points from the Gallup poll taken around the November elections last year. It was that 68 percent approval rating that is widely credited with having helped elect Republican candidates despite a sluggish economy.
The drop cannot be good news for Mr. Bush's chief political strategist, Karl Rove, but the good news for Mr. Rove is that large majorities of Americans still like the president as a man and as a leader, the Gallup survey for USA Today and CNN reported.
The job-approval decline for Mr. Bush has been more or less steady from its immediate post-September 11 peak when it was in the 90s. That does not come as a surprise to Matthew Dowd, who was in charge of polling for Mr. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign.
"I have been saying all along that the president would settle out in upper 50s when all was said and done," Mr. Dowd said yesterday. "And even if you believe this weekend snapshot [by Gallup], it is right where we thought.
"Keep in mind, any president would love to go into re-election with this job approval," Mr. Dowd said. "Reagan had 58 percent right before his 1984 re-election and won in a landslide."


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