Friday, October 06, 2006

Bush Approval: Trend turns down

More post-NIE, post-Woodward, post-Foley polls are out, suggesting that approval of President Bush has stopped its recent rise and has begun to turn down. Polls from Time, AP and Greenberg find small declines since the previous poll. A Pew poll finds no change. A GWU-Battleground poll is useless for comparison because the previous poll is from February.

The Time poll, taken 10/3-4/06 finds approval at 36%, disapproval at 57%. The AP poll from 10/2-4/06 has approval at 38%, disapproval at 59%. Pew's survey from 9/21-10/4/06 gets approval at 37%, disapproval at 53%. Greenberg/Democracy Corps was in the field 10/1-3/06 and has approval at 43%, disapproval at 53%. The GWU-Battleground poll is a bit stale, conducted 9/24-27/06. It found approval at 45% with disapproval at 53%.

The net effect of these polls on my estimate of approval is a drop of 0.4 points from the peak on September 20 to a current estimate of 40.2%. That peak, however, is also a revised estimate. Without the newer polling, the approval trend had reached 42.0%. The revised estimate of the peak is only 40.6, so recent polling has called the previous high into question. More data will be needed before we can precisely estimate either the September high point or the precise date when the turn in support took place.

While the AP, Pew and Time are generally below the trend estimate, their effect on the trend estimate is balanced by the typically high approval values from the Greenberg/Democracy Corps and GWU-Battleground polls. Likewise the "apples-to-apples" comparison of the plot for each polling organization increases the evidence that there is now a downturn in approval. Obviously we can't yet estimate how large or how sustained this turn may be.

The Pew poll is interesting because it was in the field before the Foley news broke, having collected 777 cases, and then collected an additional 726 cases after the scandal became known. Comparisons of "before" and "after" show an identical 13 point Democratic lead in the generic ballot question, suggesting no immediate impact of the Foley news on vote intentions.

Of course, as with so many Washington scandals, the story is as much about the aftermath of the revelations as the acts themselves. The "what did they know and when did they know it" drama now playing out around Speak Dennis Hastert seems likely to keep the story in the news for at least a few more days. One doesn't need polls to know this has been a bad week for the Republican party. How much that affects polling, and how long such an effect endures, remains to be seen.

For President Bush, the key question is whether he can resume his aggressive campaign efforts and can stay on his message of national security and terrorism. And if anyone is listening to his pitch at the moment. The challenge for Republicans is to change to subject. The challenge for Democrats is to take advantage of the October surprise effectively and to use Foley to advance a broader critique of the Republican congress. Stay tuned!

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