Monday, June 12, 2006

Approval down in CBS, Zogby, bucking trend

Two polls, one completed just before and the other just after the death of Iraqi al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, find small declines in approval of President Bush, a finding that runs counter to most recent polling trends. The Zogby poll, taken 6/2-6/06 found approval at 31% and disapproval at 67%. That was a 1 percentage point decline from the previous Zogby poll in mid-May. The CBS News poll taken 6/10-11/06 just after Zarqawi's death, found approval at 33% and disapproval at 60%, a 2 percentage point decline since CBS's previous poll in mid-May.

These results run counter to four recent polls by Gallup, Cook, AP and Harris, each of which had registered gains in approval in late May and the first few days of June.

Adding these two new polls also brings down the gains in my estimated approval model. That model, the blue line in the figure, now stands at 34.4%. Prior to adding these new polls, it was at 35.2%. That 34.4% would still represent a modest upturn since early May, but not so large as the previous estimate. The red line in the graph is my "more sensitive" model. Now that the standard blue line has enough data to work with, there are only minor discrepancies between the two estimates.

What is surprising about these two polls is that they represent a decline from previous polls by the same organization. Most recent polling since May 15 when President Bush spoke to a prime time audience on immigration has found small but steady increases in approval, when compared to the same poll's previous readings.

It is also a surprise that the CBS poll, taken after Zarqawi's death, shows a downturn. One would normally expect a positive "bounce" after such a military success. Such bounces are often short lived, but to see no bounce, or especially a negative one, runs counter to much past experience. It is possible that the potential charges against U.S. Marines for the incident at Haditha have had a negative effect that is countering the positive Zarqawi effect, but if so any effect of Haditha had not made itself apparent in previous polling.

It is worth noting that neither the Zogby or CBS results represent statistically significant changes from their previous values. And, as they go against the recent trends in a number of other polls, I'm inclined to view their results with caution.

I expect we'll see several new polls this week in response to Zarqawi's death. They should help us decide if these two polls are a fluke or represent a change in the President's previous upward momentum. For the moment at least, my model continues to point up, if less steeply than before. If I were a betting man, I'd bet on further upturns in other polling. But then, I never bet.

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