Why Are Bush’s Poll Numbers Still Dropping And What Can He Do About It?

When it comes to election politics at this early date, before a Democratic candidate is chosen, I pay particular attention to two numbers to determine the President’s chances of getting elected: his approval numbers and his polling numbers vs. individual candidates. Well, according the latest CNN poll, Bush’s numbers have for the first time dipped into the danger zone…

…Fifty percent of 1,003 people questioned for the poll approved of Bush’s job performance — down from 59 percent in August and 71 percent in April — the president’s lowest rating since he came to office in January 2001.

…Of the 877 registered voters included in the poll, 49 percent said they would vote for Clark, compared with 46 percent for Bush. Each of the four other major Democratic candidates came within three points of Clark’s showing in a hypothetical head-to-head race with the president, the poll found.

Kerry narrowly outpaced the president, 48-percent to 47-percent. Bush held a slim lead over Dean (49 to 46 percent), Gephardt (48 to 46 percent) and Lieberman (48 to 47 percent).

…The poll of the 877 registered voters has a sampling error of plus-or-minus 3.5 percentage points.”

Of course, the election is a long ways off and the leads the Dems have over Bush are within the margin of error, but the White House still has to be concerned. So why has Bush dropped and will he recover in time for 2004? Here’s my analysis…

The Big 5 Issues Hurting Bush

1) The Economy: The day Bush took office, there was a recession going on, there were a number of huge accounting scandals that would later damage the stock market in progress, and 9/11 was just a few months off. All of those factors hurt the economy and it’s finally catching up with GWB.

However, all signs seem to point to an economic recovery that’s in progress. If the economy comes roaring back strong — which looks entirely possible at this point — W. will have put himself in position to claim that his tax cuts made the difference. Depending on how the economy looks by election time 2004, this will either be a big plus or a big minus for W.

2) The 87 Billion for Iraq: The American public does not particularly care for foreign aid to begin with and a staggering number like 87 billion didn’t sit well with the public.

However, it looks likely that the Democrats aren’t going to try to block the funds although you can expect lots of whinging and political games over the money. Having Congress approve of the money by a significant margin may ease the sting a bit and this could even backfire on the Democrats if they complain too much. Being perceived as denying US troops the money they need to get the job done in Iraq wouldn’t sit well with the public.

Also, we’ll have to see what kind of money is requested in 2004. If the Iraqi oil money is rolling in and we’ve removed many of our troops, it could be a much, much, smaller number that won’t have such a negative effect on the general public when election time rolls around next year.

3) Bad News Out Of Iraq: As per usual, the media’s coverage of the situation has been ridiculously negative. That’s no big surprise given that this is the same media that was crying “quagmire” in the middle of one of the most successfully orchestrated military campaigns in the history of mankind just a few months ago.

While you can never be sure exactly how the occupation of a country will turn out, there are a lot of good signs. There is a lot of unreported progress that will eventually come out, the attacks on American troops still seem to be limited to the Sunni Triangle, and as we add more Iraqi troops and policemen we should be able to significantly decrease the number of American troops in Iraq. While our troops will always have to deal with terrorism in Iraq, I expect the regular casualties we’re seeing over there to have long since ceased before election 2004. Also, expect a boost for W. if & when we kill or capture Saddam and when the Kay report comes out — assuming that it has an explanation for what happened to the WMD or better yet, if Kay actually produces some weapons of mass destruction.

4) Success In The War On Terrorism Can Be A Political Problem: Ironically, as Dick Morris has pointed out, our success in the war on terrorism has hurt W. politically. As we get further out from 9/11 without an Al-Qaeda attack in the US, the public is incorrectly starting the conclude the threat has passed.

That’s bad for Bush, because he is going to have a massive foreign policy advantage over any Democrat he runs against. Assuming that there’s not another attack — which of course is impossible to guarantee — Bush will need to hammer home the fact we’re still in the middle of the war on terrorism and we have a long way to go before the war is won. Bush can’t bluntly (yet correctly) point out that electing a Democrat could cost hundreds of thousands of American lives, but that’s the vibe he should be going for.

5) Turning Off The Base: Many conservatives have become sick of Bush’s non-conservative domestic agenda. There are a plethora of issues including his huge spending increases, his support for big government programs, his refusal to get serious about stopping illegal immigration, his lack of support for the assault weapon ban, etc, etc, that have soured many conservatives on the Bush Presidency. Because of that, many of the people who should be Bush’s biggest defenders are just as likely to be taking shots at him as talking him up these days.

Bush desperately needs to find a way to get conservatives excited about his domestic agenda or at least looking at him as something other than “Bill Clinton light” on the homefront. While the tax cuts have been a big plus, he needs to come up with another couple of bread & butter issues that will appeal to the right. Maybe a new voucher plan, a real plan to secure the border, proposing a 3/5ths majority to raise taxes, something that will get the right all jazzed up on the domestic front other than just tax cuts.

Those are the big issues W. needs to deal with to get his poll numbers moving in the right direction again. While we’re a long way off from election 2004, it’s never to early staunch the bleeding at the polls…

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