Bush Popularity Hits New Low in AP Poll
President Bush is down to 36 percent approval in the latest AP poll, his lowest yet in that survey. Further, “Bush’s job approval among Republicans plummeted from 82 percent in February to 74 percent” and only 43 percent approve of his handling of foreign policy and terrorism–his strongest issue.
AP political writer Ron Fournier points out that, “By comparison, Presidents Clinton and Reagan had public approval in the mid 60s at this stage of their second terms in office, while Eisenhower was close to 60 percent, according to Gallup polls. Nixon, who was increasingly tangled up in the Watergate scandal, was in the high 20s in early 1974.”
This poll is hardly an anomaly. Here’s the RealClear Politics summary of the major surveys:
Clearly, the perception that we are failing in Iraq and the unexpected uproar over the ports issue are major factors in this latest decline. There has been a string of mini scandals and bad news stories over the last several weeks, with very little positive as a counterweight.
Like Fournier, WaPo’s Peter Baker focuses on how this declining popularity will effect Bush’s relations with Congress.
“He has no political capital,” said Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster. “Slowly but surely it’s been unraveling. There’s been a direct correlation between the trajectory of his approval numbers and the — I don’t want to call it disloyalty — the independence on the part of the Republicans in Congress.”
[M]any Republicans are still rallying around the president. After signing the Patriot Act, Bush flew to Atlanta last night to headline the Georgia Republican Party’s Presidents’ Day dinner. A senior White House official, speaking not for attribution in order to discuss political strategy, expressed relief that on the biggest policy issues — Iraq above all — most congressional Republicans still back Bush. But many Republicans are less willing to give Bush the benefit of the doubt as they once did. That became evident last year on domestic issues, when they abandoned his Social Security plan, criticized his handling of Hurricane Katrina and forced the withdrawal of Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers. Just yesterday, the Senate Budget Committee passed a budget resolution that dropped Bush’s proposals for tax relief, Medicare cuts and expanded health savings accounts. A frustrated Bush pushed back earlier in the week, accusing Congress of shortchanging Katrina relief efforts.
Now the estrangement increasingly appears even on national security issues, where Republicans long deferred to the president. Recent rebukes run from the ports deal to a ban on torture to Patriot Act revisions forced on Bush in exchange for congressional approval. Partly in the name of national security, Republican leaders also seem poised to dismiss Bush’s proposal for a guest-worker program for illegal immigrants. “He cannot afford another breach related to national security, I can tell you that,” said Patrick Griffin, who was the chief congressional liaison for the Clinton White House. “That would be devastating.”
Stanley Greenberg, a Democratic pollster who produced a survey this week suggesting Bush’s public standing has been hurt by the port issue, said it may be too late to repair the schism between Bush and congressional Republicans. “I don’t know how you put the genie back in the bottle,” he said. “After five years of unwavering loyalty to the president, they’ve demonstrated they’ll break with the president to save their own skins.”
But, then, we always knew that. That’s what congressmen do, after all.
People seem to forget that this is not parliamentary government. While working in alliance with a president of one’s own party and against one from the opposition party is often tactically useful, we have separation of powers. Ultimately, Members are supposed to vote in the best interests of their constituents. To the extent that party unity works toward that end, either on the issue itself or by building capital for down the road, it holds. When breaking ranks is to their advantage, party loyalty is secondary.
Update: Steven Taylor presents a pretty compelling case that “it is ridiculous to place Bush’s political woes at the feet of the press.”