- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 30, 2004

President Bush has maintained strong support among Republican voters even as bad news from Iraq has drowned out good economic news and driven down the president’s overall standing in recent polls.

“It’s clear that Bush’s job-approval rating among Republicans has remained remarkably high during his entire administration,” said Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll.

The Gallup Poll reported last week that 89 percent of Republicans give Mr. Bush high job-performance marks — four points higher than President Reagan had five months before his re-election in 1984.

“We are at the high end of approval ratings among our base of all presidents who have won re-election, including Reagan,” said Matthew Dowd, Bush campaign strategist and pollster.

By another important measurement, Mr. Bush and his base are getting along famously.

The intensity of support from Bush voters remains high, well above Democrats’ support for Sen. John Kerry, who is less well-known among voters, according to a May 18-19 Opinion Dynamics Corp. poll of 900 registered voters.

That survey found 78 percent of Bush voters “strongly” support him — up 5 percentage points since early April — and 21 percent say they “somewhat” support him.

By contrast, 59 percent of Kerry backers say they “strongly” support him — up 7 points from April — and 40 percent “somewhat” support him.

For Mr. Bush, history suggests that strong job approval among members of his party may be an important predictor for November.

Since 1972, incumbent presidents with an intraparty approval rating of at least 85 percent have managed to hold off the furniture movers for another four years. However, beginning with Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, no president has won re-election with an overall approval rating of less than 50 percent this late in a presidential election.

Mr. Bush has been below 50 percent in nearly every major poll reported this month, but could boost that rating if he improves his weak support among independent voters, now at 39 percent. A smooth turnover of power in Iraq next month or continued good news on the economy — or both — might help Mr. Bush’s standing with independents.

Republicans have shown strong loyalty to Mr. Bush from the onset of his presidency in 2001, when about nine in 10 Republicans approved his performance, said Gallup’s Mr. Newport. After the September 11 terror attacks, GOP support for Mr. Bush rose to nearly 100 percent.

“As Bush’s overall ratings slipped, his approval dropped back a little to roughly the 90 percent level among Republicans, but no further,” Mr. Newport wrote in a poll analysis last week, but added: “Bush has lost support among both independents and Democrats. In Gallup’s most recent poll, in fact, Bush’s job performance is approved of by only 12 percent of Democrats.”

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