- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2003

President Bush is in a stronger position to win re-election than his falling job-approval rating suggests, a bipartisan poll finds.

Mr. Bush’s job-performance rating is higher than both his father’s at this point of his presidency in 1991 and President Clinton’s at a comparable time in his first term, said Republican pollster Ed Goeas and Democrat Celinda Lake.

Their much-watched Battleground poll of 1,000 likely voters taken from Sept. 7 to Sept. 10 finds that 54 percent approve and 41 percent disapprove of the way Mr. Bush is handling the presidency.

By contrast, Mr. Bush had an 84 percent job approval rating, including 59 percent who strongly approved, in January 2002.

The poll also shows that Mr. Bush enjoys the support of the majority of voters in every income level except for those earning less than $30,000, and of voters whose dominant concern is terrorism and security, Mr. Goeas said.

Miss Lake said the president is not making the mistakes that cost his father re-election in 1992, and is making sure to show his compassion for people who have lost jobs or are otherwise disadvantaged.

The “compassionate conservatism” that was one of his main campaign themes has served him well going into his fourth year in office, Miss Lake said at a briefing with Mr. Goeas at the National Press Club.

One “dark cloud” for Mr. Bush is the economy.

Miss Lake and Mr. Goeas agreed that although voters were focused on national security after September 11, they are turning their attention back to the economy, which is normally the top concern in elections. But most voters also say they will decide that the economy is improving only when they see more jobs created, and not when the stock market gathers steam.

The problem for Mr. Bush and the Republicans, however, is that business productivity is rising so fast — which normally would be considered a blessing — that fewer jobs are needed, the two pollsters said.

“Jobs, jobs, jobs — that’s what it’s all about,” Miss Lake said as Mr. Goeas nodded in agreement.

While the two pollsters agreed that “voter intensity” was another crucial issue, they disagreed on what their joint poll showed. Miss Lake noted that 39 percent of voters say they definitely will vote to re-elect Mr. Bush, about equal to the 41 percent who say they will vote for someone to replace him.

Mr. Goeas countered that the percentage of Republicans who strongly support Mr. Bush is higher than the percentage of Democrats who strongly support an alternative. Therefore, he said, more Republicans than Democrats are likely to turn out for the 2004 election.

Mr. Goeas said another significant sign that members of Mr. Bush’s party are showing a greater propensity to vote than Democrats is that 91 percent of Republicans overall approve of the job Mr. Bush is doing. That proportion rises to 94 percent for younger Republicans. Also, 76 percent of white evangelicals approve of Mr. Bush’s job performance, he said, adding that in 2000 white evangelical voters stayed home in sufficient numbers to cost Mr. Bush the popular vote.

Democrats, meanwhile, are having a problem with two of their most important constituencies: blacks and Hispanics. Among Democrats who say they are extremely likely to vote in the 2004 presidential election, whites lead blacks by 14 percentage points and Hispanics by 16 points.

Mr. Goeas and Miss Lake agreed that Democrats have come to understand what the polling suggests: that it is unwise to attempt to cripple Mr. Bush’s re-election chances by arguing that the war in Iraq was not justified.

“I agree with Celinda. They won’t fall into that trap,” Mr. Goeas said.

The two pollsters also agreed that Democrats’ propensity to vote could improve dramatically if they nominate a candidate who is capable of energizing the party’s base the way Mr. Bush has done with his base.

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