Politics & Policy

Bush’S Mixed Bag

A new poll shows general improvement, with some problems.

A new Gallup poll shows a generally improving political situation for President George W. Bush, with Bush’s job-approval rate rising, along with his approval rating on the issues about which voters care most. Still, even with the improvements, fewer than half of Americans approve of Bush’s handling of some key issues.

#ad#In the new poll, of 1,083 adults taken in the first week of December, 55 percent of those questioned say they approve of the job Bush is doing as president, versus 43 percent who disapprove. That is up from a 50-percent approval, 47-percent disapproval rate in a Gallup poll taken in mid November.

When asked about Bush’s handling of specific issues, 65 percent of those surveyed say they approve of his handling of the threat of terrorism, versus 33 percent who disapprove. Those numbers are consistent with Bush’s ratings in the last few months, although down from his ratings on the subject last year.

Bush’s rating on the terrorism issue is particularly important because, at least in this survey, voters rank it as the most important issue of the coming campaign. Eight-eight percent say terrorism is extremely important or very important, placing it above the economy and several other voter concerns (see more below).

Other issues are a mixed bag for Bush. On Iraq, 50 percent of those polled say they approve of Bush’s performance, while 47 percent disapprove. That’s a slight improvement from polls taken in the last two months; in one survey, voter disapproval of Bush’s handling of the Iraq situation hit 54 percent.

On the issue of foreign affairs in general, 53 percent approve of the job Bush is doing, while 43 percent disapprove. That is up significantly from a Gallup poll in early November in which 46 percent approved, while 50 percent disapproved.

On the economy, 48 percent of those surveyed approve of the job Bush is doing, while 49 percent disapprove. While still below 50 percent, the approval rating represents a real improvement for the president; in early October, just 42 percent said they approved of Bush’s handling of economic matters, while 55 percent said they disapproved.

Finally, Bush receives poor marks on the issues of controlling federal spending and the federal budget deficit in general. Just 32 percent of those surveyed say they approve of Bush’s handling of the deficit, versus 60 percent who disapprove.

The poll did not measure Americans’ rating of Bush on the issue of gay marriage — the president has not, after all, had to do anything about the issue, at least not yet — but the results do suggest that, so far, policies toward gays and lesbians are not a major factor in the campaign. The issue ranked last when Gallup asked respondents to rank a list of nine issues in order of importance in the campaign.

In that ranking, terrorism placed first, with 88 percent saying it is extremely important or very important. Next was education, followed by Iraq, the economy, Social Security, the deficit, controlling federal spending, Medicare, and, finally, policies toward gays and lesbians (just 30 percent of those polled say that is an extremely important or very important issue).

Another notable feature of the list is that Medicare is ranked second-to-last among the issues. Bush receives some of his lowest rankings on Medicare — just 39 percent say they approve of his handling of the issue, while 49 percent disapprove. But overall, Medicare does not seem to rank among the top-tier issues in the campaign.

Bush’s ratings are equally poor on the more specific issue of prescription drugs for older Americans. In the poll, taken just days before Bush signed the massive drug-benefit bill, 40 percent approve of Bush’s performance, while 47 percent disapprove. But the poll also reaffirms other surveys that show that most seniors do not have the type of prescription-drug bills that dominated debate over the bill.

Gallup asked respondents over age 50 how much they spend each month on prescription drugs. Thirty percent say they pay nothing. Thirteen percent say they spend less than $25 per month. An additional 14 percent say they pay between $25 and $50 per month. Another 15 percent say they spend between $50 and $100 per month, while 13 percent say they spend between $100 and $200, and 13 percent say they spend more than $200 each month.

In total, 57 percent of those surveyed say they spend less than $50 per month on prescription drugs. Seventy-two percent say they spend less than $100 per month.

Finally, the poll shows that the president’s job approval rating on the Medicare bill is higher than either Republicans or Democrats in Congress. Just 31 percent of those surveyed say they approve of congressional Democrats’ handling of the Medicare bill, while 45 percent disapprove. The numbers are strikingly similar for Republicans: 32 percent approve, while 45 percent disapprove.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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