Poll Gives Bush His Worst Marks Yet
By ADAM NAGOURNEY and MEGAN THEE
Published: May 10, 2006
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 approval ratings for his management of foreign policy, Iraq and the economy have fallen to the lowest levels of his presidency. He drew poor marks on the issues that have been at the top of the national agenda in recent months, in particular immigration and gasoline prices.
Just 13 percent approved of Mr. Bush’s handling of rising gasoline prices. About a quarter said they approved of his handling of immigration, as Congressional Republicans try to come up with a compromise for handling the influx of illegal immigrants into the country.
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.
The poll comes six months before Election Day and well before Labor Day, when Congressional campaigns will be fully engaged. Mr. Bush has shaken up his staff in an effort to improve his political fortunes, and White House aides said they were confident that events in Iraq were improving and that the political effects of high gasoline prices could fade by the election.
Nevertheless, the Times/CBS News poll contained few if any bright notes for Mr. Bush or Congress.
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.
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.
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.
“We should have stayed out of Iraq until we knew more about it,” Bernice Davis, a Republican from Lamar, Mo., who said she now disapproved of Mr. Bush’s performance, said in a follow-up interview on Tuesday. “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.”
Although the composition of Congressional districts will make it hard for the Democrats to recapture control of Congress in the fall, the poll suggested that the trend was moving in their direction. Just 23 percent said they approved of the job Congress was doing, down from 29 percent in January. That is about the same level of support for Congress as in the fall of 1994, when Republicans seized control of the House.
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 nationwide telephone poll, of 1,241 adults, was conducted from May 4 to May 8. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.
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.
Immigration is another issue undercutting Republicans and Mr. Bush. As Republicans battle over how to respond to illegal immigration, the poll found considerable opposition to the strict measures being pressed by conservative Republicans in the House.
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.
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.
“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.”
On Iraq, two-thirds of poll respondents said they disapproved of how the president had handled the war. Fifty-six percent said going to war in the first place was a mistake, up from 50 percent in January. And 60 percent said things were going “somewhat or very badly” in the drive to stabilize the country. Sixty-three percent disapproved of Mr. Bush’s handling of foreign policy in general.
Still, 55 percent said they believed the effort in Iraq was somewhat or very likely to succeed.
“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.”
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.
The political situation has not helped some of the more prominent members of the Democratic Party. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who was Mr. Bush’s opponent in 2004, had a lower approval rating than Mr. Bush: 26 percent, down from 40 percent in a poll conducted right after the election.
And just 28 percent said they had a favorable view of Al Gore, one of Mr. Bush’s more vocal critics.