- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2003

President Bush’s latest job-approval ratings are mixed, but still place him close to the positions shared by the last four presidents at this point in their first term.

A USA Today-CNN-Gallup poll released yesterday showed that 50 percent approve of the job Mr. Bush is doing as president and 47 percent disapprove, both numbers matching the worst showing for him in each category in the Gallup Poll since he entered office. The poll was conducted Nov. 14-16, among 1,004 adults.

However, a poll conducted by ABC News and The Washington Post put Mr. Bush’s approval rating at 57 percent yesterday.

The ABC News poll has never measured Mr. Bush’s job approval at lower than 53 percent, which is greater than the lowest job-approval rating of the preceding four presidents. President Clinton’s lowest rating was 43 percent, the first President Bush’s lowest was 33 percent, President Reagan never dipped below 42 percent, and President Carter bottomed out at 28 percent.

Steven Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution, said a job-approval rating in the 50s at this point in a presidential term is a good sign for an incumbent.

“He’s pretty much stabilized and it’s at about the low 50s, and that’s a pretty good sign for getting re-elected,” Mr. Hess said. “The poll ratings will probably jump up or down on what the morning headlines are when the poll is taken, but by and large, the good economic news will drive his ratings up.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce announced Oct. 30 that the nation’s gross domestic product grew at 7.2 percent from July through September, the greatest one-quarter jump in economic growth in 19 years. But the president’s job-approval rating, according to Gallup, has still declined six points in four weeks.

Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll, said Mr. Bush’s “general trajectory [this year] has been down” since Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was overthrown in the spring.

“That produced what we call a rally effect, putting his approval rating at 71 percent,” Mr. Newport said. “He stabilized in September and has been in the same range since.”

Mr. Newport cautioned against reading too much into one week of polling, saying one can’t judge the depth of the public’s opinion of a president until trends are revealed over several weeks.

“We’ll see if it goes down farther than this,” Mr. Newport said. “Bush hasn’t continued to go down as long and as fast as his father did, at least not at the moment.”

Allan Lichtman, presidential scholar and historian at American University, said Mr. Bush’s approval numbers have been linked to the public’s confidence in “his ability to battle evil worldwide.” That confidence has been “shaken” by almost daily troop deaths in Iraq, he said.

“Bush is coming down to more normal numbers, as you’d expect,” Mr. Lichtman said. “[Iraq] is now a source of doubt for the American people.”

If the economy continues to improve, however, Mr. Bush will see his numbers rise and it will be tough for any of the Democratic candidates for president to beat him in 2004.

“They can weaken him on foreign policy, but only the economy will make him vulnerable to one of these Democrats,” Mr. Lichtman said.

Mr. Bush’s average approval rating in the Gallup poll is 66.2 percent. Only President Kennedy’s 70 percent career job-approval rating was higher than Mr. Bush’s.

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