Bush Ratings At All-Time Low in CBS Poll

President Bush’s job approval is down to 34 percent in the CBS News poll.

The latest CBS News poll finds President Bush’s approval rating has fallen to an all-time low of 34 percent, while pessimism about the Iraq war has risen to a new high.

Americans are also overwhelmingly opposed to the Bush-backed deal giving a Dubai-owned company operational control over six major U.S. ports. Seven in 10 Americans, including 58 percent of Republicans, say they’re opposed to the agreement.

Not surprising, really. There has not been much good news since the successful Iraqi elections. The hurricanes, the upsurge of violence in Iraq, various political scandals, and the shooting incident involving the vice president have all taken a toll.

The entire poll, in PDF format, is available here.


BUSH’S HANDLING OF WAR ON TERROR: George W. Bush now receives the lowest marks of his Presidency, even on fighting terrorism, a measure that has long been his strongest suit. Half of Americans now disapprove of how he is handling that effort, while 43% approve.

A large majority of Republicans still approves of the President’s handling of terrorism, although their approval, like that of all adults, has dropped nine points in the last month, to 78% now. Most Democrats and Independents disapprove.

The decline here is likely a proxy for general frustration over the state of affairs combined with a sense that the war in Iraq is going badly. The unpopularity of the ports deal also likely factors in. While there is no great success that one could point to–the killing or capturing of Osama bin Laden or Abu Musaab al Zarqawi, for example–there has been no notable failure, either. Certainly, when the 9/11 attacks took place over four years ago, nobody was predicting there would not be another attack on U.S. soil by the end of February 2006.

THE IRAQ WAR: Americans’ perceptions of the U.S. effort in Iraq are at an all-time low. By two to one, Americans think U.S. efforts to bring stability an order to Iraq are going badly – the worst assessment they have made of progress in Iraq. Now, just 36% say things are going well for the U.S. in Iraq. The only other times fewer than 40% were positive were in spring 2004, right after the photographs of abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison were published. In January, after the Iraqi election, 45% of American said things were going well.

Republicans are still positive about what’s happening in Iraq. Two-thirds of Republicans say the rebuilding effort is going well there. But that, too, has slipped a bit since January, when three-quarters thought so.

In both cases, the president is doing much better with his base than with the general public. That’s not all that surprising.

DOES BUSH CARE ABOUT PEOPLE LIKE YOU? For the first time in this poll, most Americans – 51% – say George W. Bush does not care much about people like themselves. Last fall, 47% thought he did not care. Today just 17% say Bush cares a lot about people like them, and another 30% think he cares some.

I have always thought that this was the silliest of all routine political polling questions. “Caring” is not part of the president’s job description. Still, it is probably the single best question for capturing how a leader is doing with the people. It tends to track extraordinarily well with the overall approval rating and probably gives a decent assessement of their baseline.

Update: Randy at RightWinged, Bill Quick, John Hawkins, and others point out that the poll sample is skewed Democrat, with 381 Democrats versus 289 Republicans in the weighted sample.

Still, while the 34% figure is low, that Bush’s numbers are low and getting lower is indisputable. RealClear Politics has the following summary:

George W. Bush – Job Approval Ratings
– 2/26
– 2/26
– 2/26
– 2/26
– 2/19
– 2/16

Those numbers are, to say the least, not good. The CBS News poll is definitely the outlier. But even tossing their results entirely gives us an approval rating average of 42% and a disapproval average of 53.75% for the remaining four polls.

Further, some note that the survey is of “adults” rather than “likely voters.” That, too, is a fair point. The latter are far more useful at giving insights as to how public opinion will shape the November elections. Still, media polls taken this far out are almost always done that way, as screening for likely voters is expensive and polls in February are basically to fill column inches, not predict much of anything. And, of course, the president is not running for anything, so it is not entirely clear why it matters less what the general public thinks vice voters.

The bottom line is that, even if the CBS poll is junk, it draws attention to something that is undisputed: President Bush has lost the confidence of a substantial portion of the general public. True, given the polarized nature of our polity, he is unlikely to get much above 50% absent some catalyzing national event. But getting down to 40% approval essentially means he has lost the moderates, too, and is just clinging to the base.

That means little in the sense that Bush does not need to win another election. But it has a big bearing on the “political capital” that he was eager to spend after the 2004 victory. When a president, especially a lame duck president, is unpopular, his party’s congressional delegation is much more inclined to ignore his wishes and do whatever they think is in their own political interest. So, to the extent that conservatives support the Bush agenda, they should be concerned about these polls.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Terrorism, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    Yes, the poll shows President Bush running at about 32%.. somewhere in there… but check this out:

    First make note of the idea that “Americans” were polled not “likely voters”.
    Secondly, make note of the raw numbers of those polled:

    GOP: 272
    DEM: 409
    IND: 337

    You don’t suppose that by any chance that kind of discrepancy between the numbers would have anything to do with the outcome?

    There’s also an issue, as I understand it,that they used split sample methodology, which tends to increase the margin of error. Funny, how they never mentioned that in the story. Like the discrepancy in the numbers of those polled, it was all hidden in the PDF, that they know nobody’s going to bother loading, much less reading. Well, I did.

    And there’s this also; one wonders how many polls they had to take before they came up with a number that was appealing to them.

    This “poll” from CBS is about as dirty an example of opinion tilting by a major news organization as I’ve ever seen. Now perhaps, we understand why Dan rather never got fired. They agreed with his action.

    The reality is, that in CBS we have a news organization that is willing to lie, cheat and otherwise misrepresent the facts…. anything they can do, in order to damage the current administration, which they have never liked. The episode with Rather and the forged (errr… fake but accurate) TANG documents should have been a wakeup call… to the fact that CBS has no credibility whatever and this “poll” is simply a reminder of that fact.

    You’ll forgive me if I don’t fret over these numbers, but rather, those who issued them.

  2. McGehee says:

    Stalin once said that it doesn’t matter who votes, but who counts the votes.

    I guess it also matters who counts the voters. “Fake but accurate” is still the rule at CBS, apparently.

  3. none says:

    Yes, of course! It’s the poll’s fault.


  4. LJD says:

    Sssshhhhh! You’re rattling the belief on the left that CBS swayed the numbers in favor of the President, to support the vast right-wing conspiracy….

  5. Bithead says:

    Well, what is it you think this poll has uncovered, none?

    I’ll tell you what it uncovered…. brace yourself… Democrats don’t like George W. Bush.

    Unfortunate for the Democrats, that’s ALL it proves.

  6. RA says:

    Never believe anything in the MSM unless it has been verified by a reliable source. Certainly, never, ever believe their polling. A more dishonest nest of liars you will never see.

  7. Anderson says:

    Great comments, guys. Hellooooo! Down there in the bunker!

    Sigh. Even the sensible JJ writes:

    While there is no great success that one could point to–the killing or capturing of Osama bin Laden or Abu Musaab al Zarqawi, for example–there has been no notable failure, either.

    Defining failure downward ….

  8. James Joyner says:

    Anderson: How are you defining “failure,” then?

    Bush has been telling us since roughly 9/13/01 that the war against the terrorists is going to last well beyond his presidency. Nobody with any expertise has ever said it was going to be quick.

    The lack of an attack on American soil may or may not be attributable to anything that we’ve done but it is nonetheless noteworthy.

  9. Pug says:

    So why should only likely voters be polled? Bush isn’t running for anything. Likely voters seems more important if there is an upcoming election. Why not find out what “Americans” think, whether they are likely to vote or not?

  10. Anderson says:

    Anderson: How are you defining “failure,” then?

    “Invasion of a country that posed no major threat to the U.S., miring our resources there, while leaving us effectively without military options against rogue nations like Iran and North Korea and forcing us to outsource the apprehension of Osama bin Laden to his Pakistani supporters.”

    That’s one example. Katrina (non)response, Medicare Part D, grotesque fiscal irresponsibility—if you don’t define Bush’s budgets as failures, then you’re using some recondite sense of the word.

  11. ken says:


    The ‘war on terrorism’ is just a marketing slogan. It is not policy. It is not strategy.

  12. LJD says:

    People who don’t like the President are not obligated to define failure. They can just repeatedly scream Failure! Failure! until the uniformed masses join in unison.

    The deeper point every one is still missing: Why can’t you spend your time coming up with better ways to succeed? I guess you haven’t got all the answers.

    Andersen: What exactly would you call a nation that frequently shoots at our military, supports terror, and repeatedly violates international law, if not a ‘threat’? I am also afraid you haven’t been listening to the correct sources on the status of our military either. Care to guess the percentage of our military force (sans nuclear option) is in the Gulf? We are far from a broken source. If the doomsday scenario you paint comes to light, there’ll be a draft, and not because of Iraq or the GWOT. But, not to worry, they’ll need to draft lawyers too.

  13. Bithead says:

    Still trying to sell that line, as if you’d not heard Saddam had WMD and planned to use them?

    It’s a little hard to argue that, now that we have such evidence in his own voice… assuming of course, you’re interested in the truth.

    As to the rest, I note KJL at The Corner:

    The data set itself is dramatically more Democrat. ItÂ’s 28% Republican and 37% Democrat AFTER they weighted Republicans UP. In other words, the sample was even more Democrat when it came back. In fact, Democrats were 40% of the sample and Republicans were only 27%. Someone clearly knew having a sample that was 40-27 would be a tip-off, so they weighted Dems down into the 30%s in order to avoid extreme criticism. Why is the sample so Democrat? One reason may be because almost every question bangs the President and I would guess that the hang ups they get are vastly more Republican than Democrat. Think about it. Why would a Republican sit on the phone and answer loaded anti-Bush questions for 15 minutes?

    · The survey is NOT being done for actual opinion research, but is being done for headlines. Most of the work I have done for 10 years – probably 90% of it – is NEVER released publicly. It isn’t being written for headlines, it’s being written to get the truth about how people feel. This survey is mostly done to zing Bush, Cheney and Republicans generally.

    · Many of the questions are AWFUL. Q54 is an excellent example:

    “Q54 After 9/11, President Bush authorized government wiretaps on some phone calls in the U.S. without getting court warrants, saying this was necessary in order to reduce the threat of terrorism. Do you approve or disapprove of the President doing this?”

    Does this accurately capture what he authorized? NO!!!!!!! It leaves out the fact (intentionally) that these were calls originating or ending internationally. Any respectable pollster would have included this information – or at the very least split sample the question and given this information to half of the sample to see its impact.

    Sorry, Gang. The story may have legs, given that anything that serves to further the BDS on the left gets printed. But in reality, there’s very little truth in it.

  14. Cat's Yawn says:

    Either a lot of Republicans are too disgusted to give the happy answer to pollsters or a lot of Republicans have switched parties.

    Oh, and those Saddam tapes proved nothing and an opinion piece is just an opinion piece.

  15. Bithead says:

    So, it’s your take Saddam was lying, huh?

    Yeah, THAT’S gonna sell.

    The Democrats worst nightmare is now pre-staged… all that needs happen… and it will… is the revelation of the storage sites of Saddam’s WMD in Syria.

    As I predicted two years ago, and more.

  16. G A Phillips says:

    Donkey polls everywhere I feel like I’m trapped in a tent show down in Mexico, Oh and Bithead I beg to differ Democrats are their own worst nightmare and I’ll tell you why I think this, it is because 99.8% of them are liberals, I took my own poll by talking to them over my 40 very odd years of life.

  17. Cat's Yawn says:

    My take is that Saddam brooked no dissent and demanded fealty from his inner circle which includes telling the boss man what he expects to hear. Besides, the inspectors were in there for another three years cleaning up until Clinton grabbed the dog by the tail and cleaned up whatever was left. At that point, Saddam had had enough and started playing the good kid. And he would have kept on playing that way as long as the pressure was on — certainly long enough for us to do right by bin Laden. And if Saddam did have WMDs he shipped out, they just as likely transited through Dubai.

  18. Jack Ehrlich says:

    Ken, do you work at being an idiot or does it come natural? Ask the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan about the policy of “the war on terror”. I know you have not noticed the bombings in Madrid and London, or the lack of same in this country. During the previous administrations stint at governance, American and her interests both here and abroad were struck many times. That has stopped. Notice? By the way, Ken. Who poses a greater threat to the United States? The UAE or the Peoples Republic of China? Hint. One of the two is a huge nation with WMD and a delivery system, they bought for campaign contributions and is an economic competitor of the US. How did the Communist Chinese get control of the Panama Canal and the Port of Long Beach, CA? Campaign contributions, again?

  19. LJD says:

    Talk about living in a fantasy world.
    Clinton virtually ignored every foreign policy question from China to Al Qaeda, to Iraq. The only thing he was cleaning (but not well enough) was blue dresses. Then Saddam plays ‘the good kid’ by toying with official international inspections, violating no-fly agreements, oil-for-food (nuff said), shooting at our pilots… I could go on. Good kid? WTF have you been smoking? The willingness to re-write history on the left is mind-boggling.
    So now if we had just left poor innocent Saddam alone, we would have DEFINITELY caught Bin Laden (of course chances would have been better with Kerry in office I’m sure). But just in case Saddam DID have WMD (no admission here), they went to Dubai, who is now best friends with G.W. (along with Saudi, that country full of 911 terorists).
    What a load of crap. I haven’t seen anything this deep, well, since a certain some one wagged his (horny) finger at us and exclaimed ‘I did not have relations with that girl’.

  20. Herb says:

    Any Republican is at an “All Time Low” in any CBS poll. Every time.

  21. dougrc says:

    Hell, yes, CBS, I’m dissatisified with the President. I’m dissatisfied he hasn’t brought in that bunch of liberal Republican congressmen that have been whining about the UAE company taking over some terminal operations and chewed their ears off.

    I’m dissatisfied he hasn’t dropped a gross of bunker-buster bombs on all suspected nuclear sites in Iran.

    I’m dissatisfied that he’s playing footsy with Mexico over our border security. I say that mines and razorwire are much more effective at stopping border crossings than a chainlink fence. Ask the Koreans.

    I think my point is that there are a bunch of us on the right that are dissatisfied and could have skewed that CBS poll, for that matter all polls toward the direction that the poll takers wanted the poll to go, but for totally different reasons. Polls that ask such obtuse questions don’t usually find out the undlying sentiment for satisfaction or dissatisfaction.

    I still think GW is the best choice we’ve had in twenty years and 90% of the time I’m satisfied with him. That’s more than I’m satisfied with any of my relatives, co-workers, and yes, even my darling wife, most of the time.

  22. ken says:

    Jack, American soldiers engaged in the War on Iraq are not doing anything useful to protect America. We know that, they know that.

    The most recent Zogby poll of troops stationed in Iraq shows that over 70% of them say we should get out within a year. That is about how long it would take to redeploy elsewhere, without it looking like running.

  23. Bithead says:

    And if Saddam did have WMDs he shipped out, they just as likely transited through Dubai.

    Given it’s a short hop over to Syria, why would he do that? You’re operating in fantasyland. LJD says it well.