George W. Bush’s news conference today comes at a low point in his presidency; in the most recent (July 8) national survey, conducted by Gallup with USA Today, just 29 percent of Americans approve of the president’s overall performance in office, while 66 percent disapprove. Bush has been under 30 percent approval in four of the last six national news polls.
He’s at a career low in the Gallup poll; among postwar presidents only Harry Truman, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter have gone lower (22, 23 and 28 percent, respectively). Bush has been below 50 percent approval in ABC News/Washington Post polls continuously for the last two and a half years, since January 2005. Truman was the only postwar president to stay that low for longer (three years).
Bush now holds one of the steepest declines in popularity on record – more than 60 points, owing to the fact that he peaked at 92 percent in an ABC/Post poll shortly after 9/11. The only larger fall in support was Truman’s, from a high of 87 percent approval to a low of 22 percent; third was Bush’s father’s, from a high of 90 percent to a low of 33. Naturally, these reflect not only how low these presidents went, but also how high.
Nixon was hammered by scandal, Truman and Bush’s father by economic discontent, Carter by the double-punch of a bad economy and the Iran hostage crisis. For Bush it’s all about the war in Iraq. In Gallup data 62 percent call the war a mistake; in our own last ABC/Post poll 61 percent said it was not worth fighting – and majorities have said so continuously since December 2004.
Just 22 percent (Gallup) think the surge of U.S. forces is making the situation any better. Most want the deployment of U.S. troops reduced and eventually ended. Seven in 10 in Gallup’s poll favored an April 1 deadline, but in fact when and how to withdraw U.S. forces is not fixed in public attitudes, given compunctions about leaving Iraq in chaos (see Monday’s blog item).
Other matters don’t help – e.g., 66 percent say Bush should not have intervened in the Scooter Libby case. But in terms of public opinion, this president’s problems are all about Iraq; his approval rating and views of whether the war was worth fighting have correlated since April 2003 at a near-perfect .93. Indeed, Bush’s approval year-to-year, declining sharply as the Iraq war has ground on, resembles nothing so much as Lyndon B. Johnson’s as the nation became enmeshed in Vietnam 40 years ago. Plainly, in politics, hell hath no fury like an unpopular war.