We hear a lot of hysteria in the press about the American people deserting President Bush. Every time a new poll is released, it is trumpeted as documenting a new low in the President’s approval rating. But these polls follow a variety of methodologies, most of which appear to be flawed, and make it hard to track responses consistently over time. So I think it’s useful to look at Rasmussen Reports, a data set that has been generated using consistent methods by a polling organization with a good track record in recent years.
If we look at President Bush’s approval ratings over the last year, a period of time when his standing has supposedly plummeted, the results are actually rather consistent. In December 2005, Bush’s approval rating stood at 45%, with disapproval at 54%. This was at the end of what Bush described in his State of the Union speech, correctly, as a pretty good year in Iraq. In Rasmussen’s most recent survey, after a year of relentless bad news from Iraq, Bush scores 42% positive and 56% negative–a swing of a mere two to three points.
Admittedly, Bush is up a little from earlier this month, but still, his approval percentage has fluctuated within a fairly narrow range over the last year, never higher than 45% and never lower than 38%. This belies, I think, the common perception of a downward spiral. In fact, as one would expect five to six years into Bush’s presidency, not a lot of people are changing their minds. It appears to me that the problems in Iraq over the past year have eroded Bush’s support only slightly; indeed, his position on immigration may have damaged him more. While the President would no doubt like to see his approval rating higher, he continues to command the loyalty of the large majority of America’s core, the center-right. Of the 50% plus who disapprove, I would guess that 10 to 15 points represent conservatives who disapprove of Bush’s centrist policies or believe that he is not pursuing the war aggressively enough. So on balance, if Rasmussen’s numbers are credible, Bush is not in a great position going into his last two years, but not in a terrible position, either.
UPDATE: A poster at the Forum notes that on one day in early January, which is not reflected on the Rasmussen page I linked to, President Bush’s approval rating dropped to 35%. So I should say that “[Bush's] approval percentage has fluctuated within a fairly narrow range over the last year, never higher than 45% and never lower than 35%.” That doesn’t affect any of the points I made, however.
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