- The Washington Times - Monday, October 13, 2003

President Bush’s overall job approval ratings have begun climbing back into the mid-50s as the U.S. economy continues to show increasing signs of recovery and growth.

Mr. Bush’s job-approval score rose last week to 55 percent, five points higher than an earlier national survey conducted between Sept. 19-21, according to the Gallup Poll.

A follow-up Gallup job-approval poll during the weekend showed an additional one-point uptick to 56 percent, suggesting that Mr. Bush’s declining polls during the past year may have bottomed out and begun an ascent.

In the follow-up poll, 53 percent of registered voters said Mr. Bush deserves re-election to a second term, while 45 percent said he does not.

“It seems the downward spiral that the pundits said was under way has stopped. The numbers are settling down and we’re back up to where we were in February. It’s as if the last eight months did not happen,” said Matthew Dowd, Mr. Bush’s campaign pollster.

“All the Democrats who were saying how angry the Democratic voters were and here we are right back where we were earlier this year, with his job-approval rating in the low-to-mid 50s,” Mr. Dowd said.

The Gallup Poll reported that the latest improvement in Mr. Bush’s job score “comes mainly from Democrats, who remain highly critical of the president, but show a 12-point improvement in rates from mid-September [16 percent] to now [28 percent]. Republicans’ and independents’ ratings of Bush have held steady during that time.”

Mr. Bush’s scores on individual issues, however, showed mixed results. The public was evenly split on his handling of foreign affairs, 49 percent to 49 percent. But 47 percent approved of the way he has handled the U.S. occupation of Iraq, compared with 50 percent who disapproved.

Gallup said Mr. Bush earned his lowest score on the economy — 55 percent disapproved while 42 percent approved.

But White House campaign advisers said they believe that the higher job-approval number was in part a reflection of increasing public confidence in the economy as a result of several weeks of positive reports on falling jobless-benefit claims, higher corporate earnings, increased retail sales and consumer spending, and the continuing bull market on Wall Street that has pushed stock prices higher.

“We’ve had a week or two of some good economic numbers, including a net increase in new jobs. For the first time people are hearing pieces of good news and that’s helping,” Mr. Dowd said.

“This is a good place to be for a president going into an election year and running for re-election. I expect the job approval numbers in the low-to-mid-50s to be operative for a long time. It’s really hard in an election year to have numbers much higher than this,” he said.

“I think many Democratic candidates would say they wish they were in the slump we were in,” he said.

President Clinton won re-election in 1996 when his job approval score was at 54 percent, two points lower than Mr. Bush’s is right now, Mr. Dowd said. He noted that President Reagan’s public approval score on the economy at this same point in 1983 was 37 percent, following the 1981-82 recession, but Mr. Reagan went on to win 49 states in 1984.

As for Mr. Bush’s numbers on foreign affairs and Iraq, he said that “the number that matters most is the one that shows the public trusts Bush on foreign affairs and keeping the country safe more than they do the Democrats by about 15 points.”

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