Bush’s Approval Lowest Yet, Congress Even Lower
President Bush’s job approval has hit a new low, dropping to 35% in the latest CBS News poll.
Tempers cooled a bit in Washington today after the partisan meltdown that brought Senate business to a halt Tuesday. Even so, neither Congress nor the White House will find much in a new CBS News poll to put them in a better humor. President Bush’s job approval has reached the lowest level yet. Only 35 percent approve of the job he’s doing.
Congress is rated even lower. Only 34 percent approve of its work. Vice President Cheney has never been as popular as the president, but his favorable rating is down nine points this year to just 19 percent.
More results of the poll, which focused mostly on the CIA leak investigation, are here.
While historical comparison is somewhat problematic given that the political climate has changed dramatically in the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, post-CNN era, these numbers are horribly low. Indeed, only Richard Nixon had lower poll numbers, dropping to 24% at his nadir.
The lowest approval ratings recorded by the CBS poll for recent presidentsHere are the low points for other recent presidents during second term scandals:
Bush: 35%, Disapprove 57% (10/2005)
Clinton: Approve 58%, Disapprove 29% (1/1998)
Reagan: Approve 46%, Disapprove 45% (11/1986)
Nixon (Gallup): Approve 24%, Disapprove 66% (8/1974)
It should be noted, too, that the Republican base is significantly larger now than in 1974. This would seem to indicate that President Bush is down to his core supporters.
Correction (1025): As my former colleague Don Baker notes in the comments, the numbers above do not represent the low points for those presidents, period. He notes that he recalls Clinton falling to the low 30s during his first term.
I took the numbers above from the section BUSH VS. OTHER PRESIDENTS: APPROVAL RATINGS DURING SCANDALS at the link above, naturally assuming they represented the low points for those presidents. In fact, that was not the case, strange as it may seem.
Forty percent means trouble. Look at previous presidents whose popularity fell that farÃ¢€”or lower. A bad economy was most often the reason. Gerald Ford dropped below 40 percent during the stagflation of 1975. He went on to lose the 1976 election. The “malaise” crisisÃ¢€”remember gas lines?Ã¢€”took Jimmy Carter below 40 percent in 1979 and 1980. Carter lost, too. President George H.W. Bush was below 40 for most of 1992, when the economy hit the skids and cut short his presidency.
Did Ronald Reagan ever dip below 40 percent? Yes, briefly in early 1983, when unemployment was at its highest level since the Great Depression. Republicans had just suffered a setback in the 1982 midterm elections. The economy recovered, and so did Reagan. He never dropped to 40 percent again.
It’s not always the economy, stupid. The Watergate scandal brought down Richard Nixon, whose ratings were in the 20s during his final year in office. Bill Clinton’s problem was overreaching. He dropped to 40 percent, briefly, during his first two years in office, when he overreached with his health care plan. That spelled disaster for the Democrats in 1994. But like Reagan, Clinton recovered. During the impeachment process, Clinton’s ratings actually went up, into the 60s.
Wars can also bring presidents down. The Korean War kept Harry Truman’s ratings below 40 percent for three years (1950 to ’52). In fact, Truman got the lowest Gallup Poll ratings of any president on record (since 1940). The Vietnam War pulled Lyndon Johnson down in 1967 and 1968. LBJ was at 36 percent when he announced in March 1968 that he would not seek re-election.
Over the past 65 years, three presidents never dipped as low as 40 percent in the Gallup Poll. One was Franklin Roosevelt in his third and fourth terms (during World War II). Another was Dwight Eisenhower, whose low point of 49 percent approval came in 1960. The third was John F. Kennedy, who was elected with just under 50 percent of the popular vote but as president never dipped below 56 percent approval in the opinion polls.
So, presidents have hit 40 and recovered. But Bush is fighting the twin dragons of an unpopular war and worries over the economy.
Update (11-4, 0754): Here is an interesting graphic: