What is behind President Bush’s latest drop in the polls? In the latest Gallup survey, just 31 percent approve of the job he is doing, versus 65 percent who disapprove. What is driving those numbers?
It has become conventional wisdom to argue that any decline in Bush’s approval rating these days comes from the falling support of Republicans and conservatives. To some extent, that is true. But a look inside the findings of two Gallup polls, taken a year apart, suggests that what is actually happening is a little more complicated.
Bush’s ratings appear to be declining in a three-step process. In the first step, Democrats fell off, while smaller numbers of independents peeled away and support remained strong among Republicans. In the second step, Democratic support hit bottom, while independent support fell to ever-lower levels and support among Republicans began to decline. In step three–which appears to be beginning now–independent support appears to be heading closer to the bottom while significant numbers of Republicans are also expressing disapproval.
Democratic support for the president began to fall away in 2002, after his astonishingly high post-9/11 approval ratings peaked at near 90 percent. But it did not completely disappear. As late as May 2005, Gallup found that 24 percent of Democrats approved of the job Bush was doing, while 73 percent disapproved. In that same poll, 38 percent of independents approved of Bush’s performance, versus 53 percent who disapproved. Republican approval was 87 percent, with 12 percent disapproval.
Now, a year later, the numbers are quite different. Just four percent of Democrats–a number that statistically might as well be zero–approve of Bush’s performance, while 94 percent disapprove. That is a one-year drop of 20 percentage points in Democratic approval, and an increase of 21 percentage points in disapproval.
The approval of independents has dropped to 26 percent, while 69 percent disapprove. That is a drop of 12 percentage points in independent approval, and an increase in 16 percentage points in disapproval.
And today, 68 percent of Republicans approve of the job Bush is doing, versus 28 percent who disapprove. That is a drop of 19 points in Republican approval, and an increase of 16 points in disapproval.
So Bush is losing support among those who have supported him for years. Why?
A look inside the latest numbers suggests several reasons, but it appears the president’s stand on immigration is the biggest drag on his support among Republicans–even more damaging than the disapproval caused by rising gas prices.
Of several issues specifically covered by the Gallup poll–the economy, foreign affairs, the situation in Iraq, terrorism, immigration, and energy policy–immigration is the only area in which more Republicans disapprove of the president’s policy than approve. And they disapprove by a significant margin: 52 percent of Republicans in the survey disapprove of Bush’s immigration policy, versus 40 percent who approve.
Although immigration is the worst, the president’s approval rating among Republicans is at best lackluster on a number of other issues. On the economy, 72 percent of Republicans approve of the president’s performance, while 26 percent disapprove–a strikingly high disapproval number given recent reports of high growth and low unemployment.
On foreign affairs, 72 percent of Republicans approve of the president’s performance, versus 25 percent who disapprove. On the situation in Iraq, 71 percent of Republicans approve, versus 28 percent who disapprove. On terrorism, 88 percent approve, versus 11 percent who disapprove. And on energy policy, 49 percent approve, versus 45 percent who disapprove.
What the numbers show is that, with the exception of terrorism, Bush has lost solid Republican support on a number of significant issues. Where that process ends is anyone’s guess. Perhaps this is the bottom, and the president will begin to rise in the polls. On the other hand, present trends might continue. If they do, the three-step process could ultimately become a four-step process, with more Republicans deciding to abandon the president, leaving him with no dependable base of support.
— Byron York, NR’s White House correspondent, is the author of The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President — and Why They’ll Try Even Harder Next Time.