Thursday, May 24, 2007

Bush Approval: CBS at 30%, Trend at 32.2%

The new CBS News/New York Times poll, taken 5/18-23/07, finds approval of President Bush at 30%, disapproval at 63%. The April 20-24 CBS poll had approval at 30%.

With the addition of the new poll my approval trend falls to 32.2%. The blue trend line has taken a sharp dip over the past 6 or so polls and now stands right at the lower edge of the uncertainty around the trend of the past five months.

Since January we've seen a couple of periods in which the trend dipped below 33%, only to quickly revert back up to the 33-35% range. Inspecting the figures below casts a bit more light on the current polling.

First, the more sensitive "Ready Red" estimator pegs approval at 31.2%, still about a point below "Old Blue's" take. Still not much divergence between the two estimators.

Of the last six polls, three usually fall a little above the trend estimate (Hotline, Fox and Gallup) while three usually fall below (CBS, ARG and AP). So the current reading isn't entirely due to a string of polls all of which usually have negative "house effects".

Likewise, the residuals are pretty well behaved right now. While the Newsweek outlier sets the recent low, it is largely offset by the high (but not outlier) CNN result. The remaining 8 recent polls are rather close to the trend estimate.

Finally, the range of uncertainty around the trend line, reflecting how much the trend can jump around as different polls come or go, is rather wide for the current estimate, suggesting a range of uncertainty that includes 30% but also 35%. That will shrink as new polls come in.

The bottom line: The model is not yet unambiguously insisting on a new downturn in approval. And it would be well to remember that we've seen this kind of a dip more than once this spring, only to quickly see a return to the recent equilibrium. So before declaring that decline is a certainty, we should remember that such a prediction has been wrong recently.

There has been some analysis that the immigration bill will turn Republicans against Bush, resulting in inevitable decline as his one remaining support group fails him. I think that is certainly possible, but must point out that it is exactly what did NOT happen last May. Then Bush had been in steady and strong decline since February. That trend hit a low estimate of 33.98% on May 12. On May 15 the president gave a televised address to the nation in support of immigration reform. His approval rating immediately turned up and was followed by a quite good summer (compared to his previous lows.) One can argue that the immigration issue has changed within the Republican party since that time and is now poison. Or one can argue that Bush has shown little recent leadership on immigration, and so will get no benefit from the issue. But I think immigration is a good deal more complicated than the confident assumption that the issue must be poison to the president's approval rating.

I'd also point out that opinion on Iraq remains strongly against the president even as he and his administration have stressed the negative implications of deadlines and benchmarks for Iraq funding. Often presidents have been effective in arguing that Congress cannot be commander in chief, or that any funding constraints must undermine the troops. Clearly the White House has expected those messages to ultimately move the public in their direction. So far there is little evidence of that.

So it may just be the fundamentals that are driving approval at this point. And the single most fundamental right now is Iraq. By most measures, the public has remained unsympathetic to Bush's recent arguments.