Behind The Recent Polls: Where Did All The Cultists Go?
"We should have stayed out of Iraq until we knew more about it. The economy is going to pot. Gas prices are escalating. I just voted for Bush because he's a Republican, even though I disapproved of the war. If I could go back, I would not vote for him."
--Bernice Davis, a Republican from Lamar, Mo.
Bad poll numbers in the abstract paint a partial picture of how bad things are for W and the vulnerable GOP incumbents this fall. Reading a story by a leading political writer that puts those numbers in a larger context and narrative indicate what may become the conventional wisdom among the Beltway stenographers this fall. We get such a narrative from the New York Times’ Adam Nagourney and Megan Thee this morning as he dissects the latest CBS News/New York Times poll out late yesterday, which had Bush at 31%. Bush’s approval ratings on his handling of foreign policy, the economy, and Iraq have fallen to new lows, all now below 30%. And continuing a trend in recent polls, according to the weighted sample in this poll, only 25% of the sample admitted to being a Republican, the lowest numbers in over seven years.
And that is another interesting dynamic from all these recent polls. You can read the falling poll numbers for Bush on a variety of issues, and we can debate the silly trolls who say that it doesn’t matter that Bush is toast because he isn’t on the ballot this fall even though this latest poll indicates that Bush is taking the GOP down with him. What strikes me from reading the recent polls is this: where are the Republicans?
Look at the five most recent polls (where party ID was easily obtainable) and the number of respondents in the sample that were willing to self-identify as Republicans:
CBS News/New York Times
Bush Approval: 31%
Party ID: 34% Independent, 37% Democrat, 25% Republican
Bush Approval: 31%
Party ID: 37% Independent, 32% Democrat, 29% Republican
Bush Approval: 33%
Party ID: 25% Independent, 34% Democrat, 28% Republican
Bush Approval: 34%
Party ID: 35% Independents, 34% Democrats, 30% Republicans
Bush Approval: 33%
Party ID: 37% Independents, 35% Democrats, 27% Republicans
Notice that in all of these polls over the last two weeks, the GOP didn’t crack 30% in self-identification, whereas Democrats had a low of 32% and a high most recently of 37%. Where did all the cultists go?
This is not a frivolous question. If the base is afraid to tell pollsters that they are proud Republicans, and instead are saying they are independents, what does that say about the fall election? This latest poll by CBS News and the NYT is full of indications that respondents feel Bush is toxic for candidates on the ballot this fall, and that the Democrats are now preferred to take over Congress and on a range of issues.
Americans have a bleaker view of the country's direction than at any time in more than two decades, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. Sharp disapproval of President Bush's handling of gasoline prices has combined with intensified unhappiness about Iraq to create a grim political environment for the White House and Congressional Republicans.
Mr. Bush's political strength continues to dissipate. About two-thirds of poll respondents said he did not share their priorities, up from just over half right before his re-election in 2004. About two-thirds said the country was in worse shape than it was when he became president six years ago. Forty-two percent of respondents said they considered Mr. Bush a strong leader, a drop of 11 points since January.
Seventy percent of respondents said the country was heading in the wrong direction, compared with 23 percent who said they approved of the direction in which the country was heading. Those findings are not significantly different from the responses to a CBS News poll last week and suggest that Americans are more pessimistic about the country's direction than at any other time in the 23 years that The Times and CBS News have asked the question.
Mr. Bush's overall job approval rating hit another new low, 31 percent, tying the low point of his father in July 1992, four months before the elder Mr. Bush lost his bid for a second term to Bill Clinton. That is the third lowest approval rating of any president in 50 years; only Richard M. Nixon and Jimmy Carter were viewed less favorably.
Note that it is now acceptable for the Beltway types to equate Bush to other failed and unpopular presidents, and put him in the same category. This is a slippery slope in the arena of public perception. By a five-to-one margin, respondents in this poll said things were going worse now than when Bush came into office.
Mr. Bush is even losing support from what has been his base: 51 percent of conservatives and 69 percent of Republicans approve of the way Mr. Bush is handling his job. In both cases, those figures are a substantial drop in support from four months ago.
Our trolls tell us that Bush isn’t on the ballot this fall, and that polls like this are meaningless. Yet by a 36%-13% margin, people said their vote this fall would be a vote against Bush as those who said it would be a vote for him, and by a 36%-8% margin people said that a Bush endorsement of a congressional candidate would make them vote against that candidate, as compared to those who said that a Bush endorsement would help. And by a 39%-14% margin, respondents said that Congress would do a better job if Democrats were in control.
Besides, to say that “Bush isn’t on the ballot again” is the kind of knee-jerk conservative carping from people who actually think the GOP will be able to make all House races this year local races, without gas prices, Iraq, health care, Katrina, homeland security, irresponsible tax cuts and the resulting debt ceiling increases getting in the way. Why is it that the GOP wants to nationalize an election around gay marriage and adoption, flag burning, bashing immigrants, taxes, the war on terror, and scaring people to death, yet says that national Democratic issues won’t work in local races? According to Howard Fineman this morning, Rove has decided that the only way to win this fall is not to defend Bush, but to demonize Democrats.
The truth is that the GOP is losing support for its handling of issues. After six years of one-party control, voters want a change. And any conservative drivel about Bush not being on the ballot, or making these 435 local races without national sentiments and moods playing a part, is simply the GOP whistling past the graveyard. This poll makes it clear that Bush’s problems are the GOP’s problems as well.
The problems plaguing the Republicans have clearly helped the Democrats: 55 percent said they now had a favorable view of the Democratic Party, compared with 37 percent with an unfavorable view. By contrast, 57 percent had an unfavorable view of Republicans, compared with 37 percent who had a favorable view.
Americans said Democrats would do a better job dealing with Iraq, gasoline prices, immigration, taxes, prescription drug prices and civil liberties.
Fifty percent said Democrats came closer than Republicans to sharing their moral values, compared with 37 percent who said Republicans shared their values. A majority said Republican members of Congress were more likely to be financially corrupt than Democratic members of Congress, suggesting that Democrats may be making headway in their efforts to portray Republicans as having created a "culture of corruption" in Washington.
By better than two to one, Democrats were seen as having more new ideas than Republicans. And half of respondents, the highest number yet, said it was better when different parties controlled the two branches of Congress, reflecting one of the major arguments being laid out by Congressional Democrats in their bid to win back the House or the Senate.
Americans said that Republicans would be better at maintaining a stronger military than Democrats. But the Republicans had only a slight edge on combating terrorism, an issue that has helped account for the party's political dominance since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The two biggest problems for Mr. Bush and Republicans are gasoline prices and Iraq. By 57 percent to 11 percent, respondents said they trusted Democrats more than Republicans to find a way to curb gasoline prices.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents said the increase in gasoline prices was not beyond the control of a president, but 89 percent said this administration did not have a plan to deal with the problem.
More than two-thirds said the war in Iraq was to blame for at least some of the increase in gasoline prices. Seventy-one percent said they believed that oil companies were profiting from higher prices, and a majority said oil companies were much closer to the Republican Party than to the Democratic Party.
That’s right, they are blaming the Iraq war of choice for gas prices. Memo to Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emanuel: are you paying attention? Read the comments from the Republicans in this article, and you will have a roadmap on how to win this November. Hell, 66% of the respondents in this poll think that Big Oil has more influence on the GOP than the Democrats. And by nearly a 3-1 margin, respondents said that GOP representatives were more corrupt than Democrats. And by a 5-1 margin, respondents wanted Iran to be contained through diplomacy, rather than military action now.
"We have enough problems here at home without worrying about Iraq," said Bill Trego, 64, a Republican from Waymart, Pa.
"I believed him at first, in the beginning," Mr. Trego said of Mr. Bush, "that there were weapons of mass destruction and if that was a fact, it was probably not a bad move to go in there. But they didn't find anything. When they couldn't prove it, I realized it was just a barefaced lie."
"Bush could put in some kind of regulation to control the profits of the oil companies," said Jane North, 43, a Republican from Reisterstown, Md., who said she recently changed her registration to Democrat. "He comes from the oil business, so he certainly knows how it works. I think Bush will just run out his term and not do anything to control gas prices."
The poll showed a further decline in support for the Iraq war, the issue that has most eaten into Mr. Bush's public support. The percentage of respondents who said going to war in Iraq was the correct decision slipped to a new low of 39 percent, down from 47 percent in January. Two-thirds said they had little or no confidence that Mr. Bush could successfully end the war.
By a four-to-one margin, respondents said that Congress wasn’t asking enough questions of the Bush Administration on Iraq.
About 60 percent of respondents said they favored the plan proposed by some Republicans in the Senate that would permit illegal immigrants who had worked in the United States for at least two years to keep their jobs and apply for citizenship. Just 35 percent endorsed the view of some conservatives that illegal immigrants should be deported. Two-thirds opposed building a 700-mile fence along the United States-Mexican border.
On taxes, by a two-to-one margin, Democrats were seen as better able to make the tax system fairer. By a more than three-to-one margin, Democrats were preferred to deal with prescription drugs, and Democrats even had a 13-point advantage over the GOP in sharing the moral values of respondents.
Polls like these make me ask the central question: has Bush marginalized the Republican party to a point that fewer and fewer people are even willing to admit they are Republican?