Rorschach test

Real Clear Politics puts President Bush’s average job approval rating at 47.3 percent. This is probably within the margin error of where it has been for most of the past year. Thus, it may be unsound to speculate about the causes of the “decline.”
For most, though, the temptation is irresistible. And the speculation probably tells us more about the “speculator” than about reality. Those who dislike social conservatives attribute the numbers to the Terri Schiavo and the “rise” of the “theocrats.” Those obsessed with defeating Bush on social security attribute them to his attempts at reform in this area. Conservatives tend to blame the press.
If I were to join the fun, I would resort to my generally preferred explanation for trends in public opinion — perception of the economy (it must be the ex-Marxist in me). If anything is seriously hurting Bush’s popularity, I believe it most likely is the combination of high gas prices and low stock prices. Recall how these twin phenomena coincided with Al Gore’s poor poll numbers in the period before the 2000 election. And note that consumer confidence in the economy declined sharply in April.
The press, of course, is trying to do its part too through its reporting on the economy. Lawrence Kudlow in the Washington Times points out how the media has been peddling an economic slowdown story that isn’t very well supported by the evidence. I’m sure this isn’t helping the president, but suspect that reality at the gas pump and on Wall Street is the more salient factor.
JOHN adds: Along those lines, the payroll jobs report for April came in this morning at a very solid 274,000 new jobs, higher than expected. At the same time, the reports for February and March were revised upward to 300,000 and 146,000 respectively. That represents good to excellent payroll job growth. But the nature of media coverage of the economy is that it emphasizes the negative. So we don’t see any more stories about the “jobless recovery;” but we also don’t see many stories about the economy pumping out millions of new jobs. Instead, attention just shifts to oil prices, or whatever.
That said, of course, the price of gasoline is one of the few economic data points that no one has to read a newspaper to get information about. I agree with Deacon that the price of gas has hurt the administration both directly and indirectly, by being a brake on economic growth and the stock market.

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