Bush Surging Despite Bad News

WaPo: Poll Shows New Gains For Bush

President Bush holds significant advantages over John F. Kerry in public perceptions of who is better equipped to deal with Iraq and the war on terrorism, and he has reduced the advantages his Democratic challenger held last month on many domestic issues, according to a Washington Post-ABC News Poll.

The poll also found that Iraq and the war on terrorism have surged in importance, and ranked with the economy and jobs as top voting issues. Despite signs of concern among Americans about the violence in Iraq, the poll showed Bush’s approval ratings holding steady and Kerry’s slipping on a variety of issues and attributes.

By 49 percent to 44 percent, Bush was viewed as better able to deal with the country’s biggest problems. Five weeks ago, those numbers were reversed. By comfortable margins, voters saw Bush as stronger than Kerry on key national security issues.

On the economy, Bush has erased Kerry’s 12-point edge and is tied with the senator from Massachusetts on who can better deal with the country’s economic problems.

In a matchup, Bush held a lead of 48 percent to 43 percent over Kerry among registered voters, with independent Ralph Nader at 6 percent. In early March, shortly after he effectively wrapped up the Democratic nomination, Kerry led Bush by 48 percent to 44 percent.

Bush’s improved political standing has come during a difficult period for the president. Nearly 100 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq this month, more than in any month since major combat ended last year, and Bush faces growing criticism that he does not have a plan to stabilize the country.

At the same time, the independent commission investigating the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has heard testimony from former Bush White House counterterrorism head Richard A. Clarke that Bush ignored the threat of terrorism during the first eight months of his presidency.

Unexpected news indeed. While, certainly, Republicans have a natural advantage when national security issues are at the forefront, one would think that would be undermined by the constant pounding of bad news on the national security front.

During the past five weeks, however, Bush’s reelection campaign has spent about $50 million on television ads, many of them critical of Kerry. At the same time, Kerry has been less visible than he was during the heat of the Democratic primaries and has struggled to get out his message over the volume of news about Iraq and terrorism.

A partial explanation, to be sure. Still, the amount of free anti-Bush coverage would seem to dwarf a few paid advertisements.

Big Trunk points out that the poll is of randomly selected adults rather than likely voters, so shouldn’t be taken seriously. I would ordinarily agree but note that likely voters polls tend to trend more heavily in favor of Republicans, which means, if anything, the numbers are actually more pro Bush than the poll suggests.

Kevin Drum
notes that the high (7.5%) figures for Ralph Nader should give Kerry some encouragement, since he’ll almost certainly get most of that back on election day but that,

Taken as a whole, the poll results strike me as bad news for Kerry. Aside from the obvious drop in headline support, Kerry also has surprisingly small margins over Bush in traditional Democratic areas such as jobs, the economy, and Social Security, while Bush retains his whopping lead in his traditionally strong areas of terrorism and Iraq.

Tom Maguire blames it all on Iowa–the sudden collapse of Dean and too-fast annointment of Kerry before he’d really been vetted or found his voice.

Cori Dauber doesn’t know what to make of it all but has several paragraphs offering possible explanations. One in particular strikes me as quite plausible:

Is it perhaps possible instead that terrorism and the war have been in the news a great deal, enough for people to be worried about them at a greater level, but that they aren’t holding the administration responsible for increased problems? that they hold the terrorists responsible for increased terrorist threats, and believe that the only way to deal with problems in Iraq is to stand firm?

It’s only April 20. Things in Iraq could get much better–or much worse. The economy will continue to fluctuate, in ways that will either help or hurt Bush. The conventions have yet to take place. Still, I’m amazed that Bush is trending upward when he’s constantly getting hammered with bad news–especially in what seems to be his area of greatest strength. That’s not a good sign for Kerry and company.

Similar results are shown in this USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll.

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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. paladin says:

    Bush’s favorable numbers may reflect the public’s perception of “piling on”. By that I mean the weekly Anti-Bush Book of the Week with the associated press hoopla, the anti-Bush partisan tone of the 9/11 hearings, the lame and idiotic questions by the press at the recent press conference, and Kerry picking up on the “I make mistakes, but I can admit them” meme, which makes the press and Kerry look like they are in collusion, idiot statements by Kennedy (this is Vietnam) and Dean ( the Madrid bombings are Bush’s fault) and other Dems, and since Kerry is keeping a low profile, it appears he hopes to win by default and let others do the heavy lifting. I think it is this overkill that may have contributed to Bush’s strong ratings. It’s a backlash to all the negativity.

  2. Scott Harris says:

    The Iowa Elections Market has stabilized at Bush 52%, Kerry 47% for almost six weeks now.

  3. Attila Girl says:

    I think the media focus on problems in Iraq has backfired, and led people to support the President even more. Not just in the backlash sense–though that too–but because their attempts to paint Iraq as a quagmire have unintentionally brought most Americans to the side of the troops and their CIC.

    I don’t think the average American wants to cut and run on this, and the more we see Americans killed at this point, the more people will support Bush.