Bush Numbers Up After Terrorism Push

Gallup’s Frank Newport looks at a new poll released by his firm showing President Bush with his highest approval numbers in a year and concludes that the administration’s new campaign on the war against terror is having its desired effect.

The Bush administration has spent the last several weeks carrying out a political strategy designed to stress the reality of the threat of terrorism in the United States today, while concomitantly emphasizing the GOP’s perceived superiority in handling terrorism. The administration’s strategy has also included a continued emphasis on the connection between the war in Iraq and the war on terror.

New USA Today/Gallup poll data provide suggestive evidence that this strategy may be having an effect. President George W. Bush’s job approval rating has risen to its highest level in about a year, 44%. Americans are more positive about the war on terror and voters are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports Bush on terrorism rather than one who opposes him. By a slight margin, Americans tend to think that the country will be safer from terrorism if the GOP retains control of the House, rather than if the Democrats take control. And voters are now as likely to say that the war in Iraq is a part of the war on terror as say it is not.

Here are the Gallup numbers on presidential approval for the past year:

Gallup Poll Bush Approval Ratings

While still abysmal–one prefers to have approval numbers higher than disapproval numbers, at the very least–the numbers are definitely moving in the right direction. And many of the internals that Newport points to do indicate that terrorism is the key issue and one that favors Republicans. This chart, in particular, is interesting:

Gallup Poll Terrorism Ratings

On the other hand, the plurality of those surveyed think it would make no difference which was in control and the Democrats have a much bigger advantage on Iraq than the Republicans do on terrorism:

Gallup Poll Terrorism Iraq Ratings

My guess is that, while the terrorism push has helped–if nothing else, it has gotten Bush into the public eye on his own terms–other factors are important as well. Perhaps most imortant among them: Falling gasoline prices. As I’ve pointed out before, there is an uncanny correlation between Bush’s approval ratings and the price of gas at the pump.

Note: As always with Gallup numbers, realize that these are merely “adults” rather than likely voters. They’re not necessarily indicative of what’s going to happen in November but, since they are consistent, they’re at least interesting for longer term trend analysis.

UPDATE: Commenter Tano points to an interesting discussion/debunking of the “Pollkatz Hypothesis” (the gas price-Bush approval correlation) by Sean at MyElectionAnalysis. While I understand the basic points about scaling, I don’t know enugh to have a firm opinion as to what is a “proper” scale. More persuasive, though, is his use of regression analysis to show that the power of the gas price variable is relatively weak when controlling for other likely explanations.

As I note in the comments section, though, one would expect there to be a lag effect between price fluctuations and (hypothetically) resultant ratings changes since, presumably, people aren’t changing their view in anticipation of price changes but in reaction to them. It’s unclear whether this was factored into the analysis.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    Doesn’t Gallup tend to lean Republican? I seem to recall that from earlier years.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Anderson: I’d have to see comparative numbers but it strikes me as unlikely. Indeed, using “adults” vice “registered voters” almost always means a slight Democratic tilt vice November turnouts.

    Any systematic bias would almost be irrelevant for trend analysis even if the numbers themselves were sketchy.

  3. Anderson says:

    Here’s an example from the 2004 polls, showing that Gallup tended to trend higher for Bush. That’s probably what I was thinking about.

  4. Anderson says:

    More on Gallup’s tendencies at The Plank.

  5. This recent polling data tells me that voters have a clear perspective on the war in Iraq…perhaps more cogent than either Party. They feel it is being handled poorly, they know what a civil war looks like, they believe Congress has failed to do its part in guiding and overseeing the executive branch, and they realize that the notion of exporting democracy to the Middle East is a Bush Doctrine that fails to recognize the realities in the region. Finally, they believe that Middle East stability is important and that a withdrawal that leaves Iraq in chaos may well be detrimental to the United States.

    That, my friends, is one spot on analysis and suggests that voters have discerned fact from fiction with an impressive demonstration of acuity. Perhaps both parties will someday learn that the truth is, in the final analysis, the most powerful campaign strategy available. Don’t hold your breath.

    Read more here:


  6. Michael says:

    All very true, however I think the most profound result this poll shows is that “Adults” are overwhelmingly convinced that Iraq is not part of the War on Terror. Because of that, playing the “tough on terror” meme will not help Republican candidates fend off attacks about failures in Iraq, the public sees them as different issues this year. This does not bode well for Republicans since other recent polls have placed the war in Iraq as a higher concern among voters that the war on terror. I would expect the second phase of Bush’s terror push will be to try and salvage the “Iraq is the front line in the War on Terror” meme.

  7. Tano says:


    2 things.

    1) There is a very long and interesting debunking of the gas price – approval rating correlation posted on MyElectionAnalysis today. Check it out.


    2) The Rasmussen daily tracking poll had an interesting week last week. Bush’s approval rating had been steady at 41-42 before 9/11, then went up to 47 over a few days, and in a symmetrical manner came back down. Today it is 40, which is lower than before 9/11.

    The polls you report on today seem to be from within that week. I am not sure that great conclusions should be made from them.

  8. Herb says:

    I am gathering from comments from Anderson, that he just can’t believe what is happening to his favorite Democrats in the upcoming elections.

    I guess he will have a lot of crow to consume when it’s all over and the Republicans hold their majority in both houses of Congress.

    Looks like all of the “hate Bush” rhetoric has gone for nothing. Eat your hearts out Dems.

  9. Bithead says:

    The reasons are simple enough that even the average liberal should be able to figure them out:

    The American people have been fed a steady diet of antiabortion propaganda for the last six years. The press has absolutely delighted in providing us with this “service”. After that, one doesn’t have to be overly smart to be able to figure out where those negative numbers are coming from. The betterment of those polling numbers should also surprise nobody. Give the American people both sides of the story for the first time in six years, and the perception of the people is gonna change. It’s really that simple.

    Give the people the truth, and a choice, and they will respond to it. Which explains why Err America is filing for bankruptcy, and President Bush’s polling numbers are going up.

  10. Bithead says:

    Correction: Anti BUSH propaganda.

    (Grumble…. what I get for using the dictation unit when I have a cold)