Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Bush approval continues rise in Gallup to 38%

A Gallup poll completed 6/9-11/06 in the immediate aftermath of the death of Iraqi al-Qaeda leader Zarqawi finds approval of President Bush continues to climb. The Gallup results find approval at 38%, with disapproval at 56%. That is a 2 percentage point increase since Gallup's poll a week earlier (6/1-4). More impressive are the gains in approval since Gallup's all time low of 31% approval as of 5/5-7/06.

That seven point gain is quite substantial, no doubt music to the White House ears. It is also a bit too good to be entirely true. The slope of Gallup approval in the figure is considerably sharper than the slope of the blue trend line estimate of approval. Gallup's low of 31% was actually the second lowest of the polls taken about that time, and some 3 percentage points below the then-current trend estimate. The current estimate at 38% is now at the high end of polls taken since June 1. So this seven point gain is almost certainly an overstatement of the "real" gains made by the President since his May 15 address on immigration, which marked a turning point for his recent approval ratings.

Nonetheless, the new Gallup data continues to support the evidence that the President is recovering from his all time low approval ratings of April and early May. With the Gallup data added, my trend estimate stands at 35.0%. That is also a nice upturn from the estimate with the CBS and Zogby data (but not the new Gallup) which stood at 34.4% (that was about 30 minutes ago, before the Gallup data was released on the USAToday website!)

I commented just before the Gallup data were released here that we would want to see some more polling before accepting the downturns in approval registered by Zogby and CBS. The Gallup data help bring the estimated trend back up. As it now stands, we have four recent polls showing approval at or above 35% (AP, Cook and two Gallups), while three polls find approval below 35 (CBS, Zogby and Harris). My trend estimate (the blue line in the figure) reflects the balance across these pretty well.

What we still need more polls for is to help estimate the current rate of gain in approval. At the moment it appears to be less sharp that that registered in November-December 2005, though the Gallup jumps are similar then and now. If more polls come in above 35% approval then the trend line will rise further. If the new polls include some more results similar to CBS, then the trend will remain somewhat flatter than in November. And of course if more polling looks like Gallup's latest then the trend will look sharp indeed.

There is more in the Gallup data that bears close inspection. USAToday is to commended for posting a quite complete set of topline results here. Not all organizations are as forthcoming with their data.

Gallup registered substantial and widespread increases in elements of presidential evaluation in this poll. Approval of President Bush's handling of Iraq improved to 36% from 32% as of 4/28-30/06. Approval of his handling of terrorism improved to 51% from 48% over the same time. Handling foreign policy was up to 39% from 33%. And approval of his handling of the economy reached 39%, up from 34%.

My personal favorite, however, is approval of Bush's handling of immigration. That rose to 38% from just 26% as of 4/28-30. Since December, the data have consistently shown that substantial shares of the population are broadly supportive of immigration reform of the kind the President has supported-- increased border security but coupled with some form of guest worker program and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the US. That has been a lightening rod for House Republicans who have loudly embraced only tightened border security and criminal penalties for illegals. But I think the data have strongly suggested that the President actually holds the winning hand on these policies despite the reaction of conservative talk radio in addition to the House Republicans. So I find the 12 point upturn in approval on immigration to be a good sign that the public has in fact respondent favorably to the President's leadership on this issue. Whether that leadership can in fact broker a deal with the House is another matter. But I think positive polling trends in approval, and continued evidence that the public is generally quite receptive to the President's position on immigration, may yet bring over significant numbers of House Republicans.

Other results in the Gallup data find increases in support for the Iraq war ("A mistake" down to 51% from 57%; Iraq going moderately or very well up to 47% from 38%; US will definitely or probably win up to 48% from 39%) and a small reduction in support for speedy withdrawal ("immediately" or "within 12 months" down to 49% from 54%.)

These results for Iraq should be understood to reflect not just the impact of Zarqawi's death put also the success of the new Iraqi government. They should also not be overstated so long as over half think the war was a mistake and nearly half want a speedy withdrawal.

The CBS results found smaller increases in support, but did register some gains related to Iraq. Even as CBS found overall approval down two points, they found approval of the President's handling of Iraq up 2 points and handling of terrorism up 1 point. (And contra the Gallup finding, CBS finds a DECLINE in support for handing of immigration-- to 33% from 38%, much to my dismay.) But CBS also finds an increase in saying the Iraq war is worth the cost, from 25% to 33%, and that the war is going very or somewhat well is up to 43% from 41%. And those saying the US is either very or somewhat likely to succeed in Iraq is up to a frankly surprising 60% from 55% in early May.

So even the CBS poll that was down in overall approval contained elements of good news for the White House. (With the appropriate caveats that the LEVEL of support is generally still quite low, but that the TREND is somewhat improved.)

More polls (where have I said that before) will help clarify this. CNN/ORC has a new poll on Iraq that finds modest improvements similar to Gallup's, though they don't offer a presidential job approval in the 6/12 data release. Maybe Tuesday.

Taken together, the data have enough positive elements (even in CBS, but gangbusters in Gallup) to sustain the upward trend in approval ratings.

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