Monday, July 16, 2007

Bush Approval: Two new polls, Trend at 28.0%

Two new polls at the end of last week find approval of President Bush a bit above recent trend estimates. The Associated Press poll, taken 7/9-11/07, found approval at 33% with disapproval at 65%. A Newsweek poll taken 7/11-12/07 got approval at 29%, disapproval at 64%. Prior to these polls the trend estimate was 27.2%. With the two added, the trend estimate now stands at 28.0%.

This is the first time we've seen a pair of polls above trend in a while. Balance above and below trend has been the recent rule. For AP, this is a 1 point gain from their early June poll, while for Newsweek it is a 3 point gain over the previous week. Neither would qualify as a statistically significant change.

I'm normally quite cautious about suggesting a change of trend based on only two polls. That caution is especially important here because the AP result at 33% is right on the margin of the 95% confidence interval, as close to an outlier as you can get. Indeed, without the Newsweek poll, AP would be a bit outside the 95% confidence interval.

But tossing caution to the wind for a moment, it wouldn't be a surprise if the President's sharp decline is due for some leveling out. Approval was stable from December through April, starting down around April 24th. Since then it has been sinking at a nearly constant rate for over two months. This has brought the trend in approval solidly into the 20s for the last 10 polls, not a simple "blip" down. But to sustain approval this low requires Republican support for Bush sinking below 60% or Independents sinking to the mid-teens. Democrats are already below 10%, so can't contribute much to further decline.

Recent polls from Newsweek, CBS and Gallup have found Republican approval between 60% and 68%. Independents have ranged from 18% to 26%, and Democrats from 7% to 10%. Gallup has a nice graph of trends by party identification here, indicating more of a downward trend among Independents, and a smaller but still noticeable decline among Republicans. Democrats have been fairly flat. Gallup's support among Republican's tends to the high end of the range across polls, probably due to different question wording for partisanship. (Gallup's long standing partisanship question emphasizes current feelings: "In politics, as of today, do you consider yourself a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent?". Some others stress the longer term "Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as a Republican, a Democrat, an independent or what?".)

The question is whether Republicans are yet willing to reduce their support for President Bush still further. Republican Senators have begun a series of breaks with the President over Iraq policy and could signal to the grass roots that it is time for an end to unconditional support for Bush. On the other hand, Republicans in the House have retained their unity in support of the President's Iraq policy and so far Republican presidential candidates have refused to repudiate the President. With the divisive immigration bill behind him Bush may be able to sustain a new plateau in partisan support leading to a flattening out of his approval trend.

That assumes independents, or at least 20-25% of them, will also stay on board.

The other reason to think we may have reached a new plateau is that both the AP and the Newsweek polls are normally a bit below the trend estimate. AP is normally .93 percentage points below trend, while Newsweek averages 1.15 points below trend. While either current poll could well be randomly high and their next results return to below trend, these are not polls we usually expect to run above trend.

So the current estimate at 28% approval still signals deep trouble for President Bush, and the trend may remain in the 20s. But to sink much more is going to require a significant desertion by Republicans and/or Independents, moving below their current levels of support. The most likely way for that to happen is for Republican leaders to turn against the President. Will they?