Friday, May 5, 2006

Dissatisfaction with both Congress and President Bush is widespread and deep among conservatives, according to new polls that show Mr. Bush scoring startling low ratings on immigration in particular.

Thirteen percent of respondents in a new Zogby Interactive poll approved of Mr. Bush’s handling of immigration, and 9 percent approved of his handling of border security. Among conservative and very conservative people, he was below 25 percent.

Meanwhile, a separate Associated Press-Ipsos Public Affairs poll released yesterday found 45 percent of self-identified conservatives disapprove of Mr. Bush’s job as president, and 65 percent disapprove of the Republican-led Congress.

“One of the things clearly that’s happening is a breakdown of the coalition that elected and re-elected the president,” said John Zogby, who said his surveys show Mr. Bush getting less than 45 percent support among groups such as investors, NASCAR fans, gun owners and Catholics, and just over 50 percent among born-again Christians.

He also said he had never seen any presidential ratings as low as Mr. Bush scored on immigration and border security.

“Frankly, I think this comes under the column of piling it on,” he said. “This is more than immigration, but translated, this is the next hot issue. This is what we’re all looking at, paying attention to.”

Mr. Bush’s polls never fully recovered from a dive after the botched federal response to Hurricane Katrina. But recent surveys show him reaching new depths with just six months to go before congressional elections.

The numbers are serving as yet another wake-up call for Republicans in Congress, who said spending and immigration keep arising when they talk to constituents.

“If we want to keep our conservatives on the team and show up in November, we’ve got to perform,” said Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican, who has proposed an “American Renewal” plan to try to focus Republicans.

He said there are also some good short-term steps Mr. Bush could take — including standing firm on his threat to veto the emergency war-spending bill if it comes in over his targeted dollar figure, and addressing immigration and border security. He said the Republican base is “very concerned” about getting something done on immigration.

“The House moved, the Senate hasn’t, and Bush has been a little ambivalent,” he said. “The president should not have to be explaining to people he did not mean to imply he supported amnesty.”

Mr. Kingston also said the president is suffering from poor public perception on Iraq, even though his constituents, including troops at five military bases in his district, report “a significant success story.”

The Bush administration dismissed the poor numbers yesterday.

“I know sometimes this room gets caught up in the polls, but the American people want us to focus on getting things done, and that’s what this president is going to continue to do for the last 21/2 years of his administration,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

But conservatives said the numbers are real, and politicians should pay attention.

“It supports what I have been hearing from some Republican members of Congress in terms of the polling data they are doing in their own districts,” said Bill Lauderback, executive vice president of the American Conservative Union. “This is not an aberration, but is reflective of the general dissatisfaction among conservatives with the president’s performance.”

Bobby Eberle, president of GOP USA, a conservative Web site that regularly surveys thousands of conservatives, said he hears the same concerns.

He said a recent survey of his members showed spending as the top cause of frustration among conservatives, and immigration as the second-ranking issue. Success with appointing judges was the top reason for satisfaction, followed by tax cuts.

Mr. Eberle said Republicans could do a lot by fighting for principles.

“Just fight the fight. How do we know we’re going to lose a legislative battle if we don’t even fight it?” he said.

Republican pollster David Winston questioned the AP survey, pointing out that 50 percent of those who responded identified themselves as Democrats and just 8 percent said they were independents. By contrast, exit polls from the 2004 election showed Republicans and Democrats evenly split at 37 percent and independents at 26 percent.

“Their survey is just a single survey, and I’ve not seen any other data that support those specific numbers in terms of conservatives’ approval of Bush and Congress,” he said.

Still, he said, base Republicans do want to see the border-security issue resolved.

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