Start Playing "Taps" Karl - Gallup Says Rising Oil Prices, And Schiavo Are Hurting Bush Greatly
The latest CNN/USAT/Gallup Poll taken Monday through Wednesday of this week shows, as other polls have done recently, that Bush’s approval rating has fallen, in some cases to the lowest level of his presidency. According to the Gallup poll, Bush’s approval rating is now down to 45%, a seven-point drop from 52% just last week. And although this poll mirrors other recent polls that have also shown Bush’s numbers drop on the economy and Iraq, as he has pushed privatization and inserted himself into the Terri Schiavo tragedy, I am hesitant to put much into this poll for one major reason.
The poll had a Democratic bias of 5 points in its sample (37% Democrat, 32% Republican), while the recent Gallup polls had a GOP bias. Do I think Democrats have an edge over Republicans right now? Yes. Do I think it is five points? Maybe not, given that Harris feels it is three points through 2004. But what if the Terri Schiavo exploitation has led to more people self-identifying as Democrats now, and what if this isn’t a transitory move but the first signs of a shift towards the Democrats leading up to the 2006 elections? We’ll see.
Kudos to both USAT and Gallup for making the party ID numbers front and center in the story and the release.
The factors contributing to increasing dissatisfaction with the way Bush is handling his job also appear to be causing some Americans to drift toward identification with the Democratic Party, at least temporarily. The poll shows that the percentages of Americans who say they identify "as of today" as either a Republican or an independent are down slightly, from 35% Republican in Gallup's last poll to 32% in this poll, and from 31% independent to 29% independent. Identification with the Democratic Party is up from 32% to 37%. These relatively slight changes do not suggest a fundamental shift in the partisan structure in America today so much as they reflect a more negative mood at the moment toward both the president and his party.
Gallup points out a key fact that will keep Karl Rove and the president up at night: the misplayed Schiavo debacle has cost Bush support from his base:
The new poll found the largest drop for Bush came among men, self-described conservatives and churchgoers.
Independent political analysts said the drop may reflect opposition to the White House and Congress intervening in the Terri Schiavo matter.
"You have to wonder if people didn't feel that the president and the Congress couldn't be spending their time working on Social Security and other problems," said Charlie Cook, editor of the non-partisan Cook Political Report.
The poll also found that despite an allegedly improving economy, Bush’s numbers on the economy are in free-fall.
Bush's handling of the economy also appears to have contributed to the poll's findings.
Bush's economic ratings:
• 59% said economic conditions are getting worse, Bush's highest negative number on the economy in two years.
• 32% rated economic conditions good or excellent, the lowest rating in over a year.
• A Gallup Poll taken in the same period found rising concern about gas costs. Fuel and oil prices tied with unemployment, jobs and wages for top economic concerns.
In fact, Gallup found that Bush’s coddling of the oil industry is finally catching up to him. After conservative commentators and Bush defenders have said for months that rising gas prices aren’t a drag on Bush because consumers have adjusted for such cost increases, Gallup has found that as we head into the summer driving season, rising gas prices may be Bush’s Waterloo, leading to a startling erosion in consumer confidence and a gross dissatisfaction with the direction of the country.
In the last three Gallup surveys, conducted in late February and early March, Bush's job approval rating was 52%. The timing of the seven-point drop suggests that the controversy over the Terri Schiavo case may be a major cause. New polls by ABC and CBS News show large majorities of Americans opposed to the intervention by Congress and the president in the Schiavo case, and Gallup's Tuesday-night poll shows a majority of Americans disapprove of the way Bush has handled the Schiavo situation. Almost all recent polling has shown that Americans approve of the decision to remove Schiavo's feeding tube.
But the CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey suggests that the public's increasingly dismal views about the economy, and about the way things are going in general, could also be factors in Bush's lower approval rating.
A month ago, the public was more dissatisfied than satisfied with the country's direction by a margin of seven points; 52% of Americans said they were dissatisfied with the way things were going in the United States at that time, compared with 45% who were satisfied. But the current poll shows that the margin of dissatisfaction has increased to 21 points, 59% dissatisfied to 38% satisfied.
Gallup's economic measures also show a continual decline since the beginning of the year. Thirty-two percent of Americans rate current economic conditions as excellent or good, while 24% say poor. That eight-point positive margin is the smallest since Gallup found a two-point margin last May. At the beginning of this year, 41% rated the economy as excellent or good, while just 17% said poor -- a 24-point positive margin. Earlier this month, the positive margin was 19 points, 35% to 16%.
Even more dramatic is the greater pessimism about the future of the nation's economy. Fifty-nine percent of Americans say the economy is getting worse, just 33% say better -- a 26-point negative margin. Earlier this month, the net negative rating was just nine points, with 50% saying the economy was getting worse, and 41% saying better. This is the worst rating on this measure in two years.
One factor contributing to the economic malaise is almost certainly the rising price of gas and oil. In an open-ended question, 17% of Americans cited fuel prices as the most important economic problem facing the country, up from just 5% who said that a month ago, and 3% who mentioned it in mid-January.
When asked to identify the most important financial problem facing their families, 10% said energy costs -- up from just 3% who mentioned that in February and January.
Short of opening up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which he has said repeatedly he won’t do, Bush can do little to reverse the mess he has created with higher gas prices. He has done nothing in four years to push a bipartisan energy policy that reduces consumption and diversifies our sources of energy. Even if OPEC opens the spigots for him, which I expect them to do now to bail him out, will gas prices fall far enough during the summer to brighten consumers’ moods? And if this does happen, when will these steadily increasing oil prices, coupled with monetary tightening by Alan Greenspan to snuff out signs of inflation kill off any upcoming job growth?
In short, between the Schiavo debacle hurting Bush and the GOP with their base, the burgeoning dissatisfaction amongst the electorate with the economy, and a host of domestic issues that Bush and the GOP have ignored for over four years while they curried favor with their base, this may very well be the tipping point for this administration.
Now if only the Democrats can step out and act like a viable alternative. Democrats have a huge opportunity to seize upon the issue that Bush and the GOP spend more time pandering to their evangelical base than they do in dealing with the problems of the country. This poll shows that with economic concerns rising and a general dissatisfaction reaching crisis proportions amongst the electorate, such an argument will gain traction.