Thursday, October 13, 2005

Two views of Presidential Approval, Part 2

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Presidential Approval, 2001-2005

The most crucial observation here is that over the course of President Bush's administration, his approval rating has never fallen as fast as it has since August. This is not "free fall" (the Elder President Bush fell faster in the fall of 1991), but the drop since August 1 is disturbing. The effects of Katrina are significant, but these are now absorbed in the rating. The current difficulties with the Miers nomination, the ongoing Iraq casualties and gas prices (even if they are moderating a bit) are now going to drive the approval ratings. So far the administration has failed to regain control of the agenda to arrest this decline.

And as bad news brings bad news, the Miers nomination has probably added to the President's problems. Not that all that many citizens are as glued to the coverage as we junkies are, but because the tone it sets for coverage of the President is likely to continue to reflect his troubles rather than his successes. Approval of the Iraqi constitution may help a little, but we will pass 2,000 U.S. troop deaths within the next 6 weeks, and that will almost certainly produce renewed focus on the cost of the Iraq war. If the Miers hearings are underway at about the same time, the President could face damaging news on two fronts. The President's attempt this week to reassert the positive case for our involvement in Iraq was generally well reviewed but almost immediately lost in a week of other controversey. His talk with the troops today probably isn't going to help matters.

Second terms often seem to depend on second string players in the White House. Whether it is the new players, the distractions of grand jury investigations, a loss of agenda control by the President (after a failed Social Security initiative), or uncontrollable events both natural and political that have taken their toll, the result is a seriously damaged presidency. Someone in the White House needs to take control and make better decisions or the 2006 elections may slip away--- even if Democrats are not, so far, producing a clear alternative message. The elections may be over 12 months away, but candidate recruitment is now, and rational Republican candidates must see a hard road while Democrats are encouraged by the current turmoil.