Poll: Bush's Approval Sinking

President Bush delivers his remarks at NASA Headquarters in Washington. AP

After rising in public support following the capture of Saddam Hussein, the President gives his State of the Union message next week with a decidedly less positive audience. His approval rating of 50% matches his lowest approval ratings ever, and the largest number ever – 45% - disapprove.

BUSH JOB APPROVAL
Now
Approve
50%
Disapprove
45%

12/20-22/2003
Approve
60%
Disapprove
33%

This decline (from 60% approval the week after Saddam's capture) comes after former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's criticisms of the Administration in a book and in interviews, and after continuing attacks on American troops in Iraq. And there is other bad news for the President.

  • Less than half now approve of how he is handling the situation in Iraq. 51% say the war was not worth the costs.
  • Two of the President's just-launched initiatives have met with negative public assessment. Most Americans oppose temporary work permits for illegal immigrants and don't think a permanent space station on the moon is worth it.
  • Just 41% say the President has the same priorities on the issues they do.
  • Only 30% say he is more interested in protecting the interests of ordinary Americans than in protecting the interests of large corporations. Just 39% -- fewer than before -- have confidence in his ability to make the right economic decisions.
  • Looking ahead, registered voters are evenly split on whether they would now vote for President Bush or the as-yet-unnamed Democrat in November. But most think the President will win that race.

    The Democratic candidates, campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire, have also spent time attacking the President (as well as attacking each other). Nationally, Howard Dean still leads among Democratic primary voters, with 24% of the vote. Wesley Clark and Dick Gephardt are also in double digits.

    Overall, most Americans say things in the country are worse now than they were five years ago. 57% say things are worse now, while 21% say they're better. But they are more optimistic than pessimistic about the future. Looking ahead five years, 45% say things will be better than they are today, while 26% think things will be worse.

    GEORGE W. BUSH

    The president's overall job approval ties with the lowest ratings he has received since taking office, and his disapproval rating is at its highest. Several other evaluations of the president -- such as his ability to handle an international crisis, and perceptions of the respect he receives from foreign leaders -- have fallen back to pre-9/11 levels after having risen sharply in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

    50% now approve of the job Bush is doing as president, and 45% disapprove. In August 2001 and November 2003 his rating was also 50%. Bush's approval rating has fallen over the past month; it was 60% in a CBS News Poll taken in mid-December, but prior to that had hovered in the mid-50s for several months.

    Bush's highest job approval rating was in October 2001, when 90% approved of the job he was doing as president.

    Republicans overwhelmingly approve of the President's job performance, while most Democrats disapprove. Independents are now slightly negative, with 45% approving and 50% disapproving.

    In fact, most of the decline in Bush's approval ratings in the past month comes from Independents. With the exception of terrorism, Bush suffers significant double-digit declines in all approval ratings from this group.

    This president's job approval rating surpasses his father's at the same point in that administration, and ties Bill Clinton's. In January 1996, as Bill Clinton was preparing his ultimately successful re-election campaign, only about half of Americans approved of the job he was doing. George H. W. Bush was in worse shape at the same point in his presidency, with a 43% approval rating and 47% disapproving.

    PRESIDENTIAL JOB APPROVAL
    George W. Bush, Now
    Approve
    50%
    Disapprove
    45%

    Bill Clinton, 1/96
    Approve
    49%
    Disapprove
    40%

    George H.W. Bush. 1/92
    Approve
    43%
    Disapprove
    47%

    Views of Bush on a more personal level, like the views of him as president, are more closely divided than ever. 41% of Americans have a favorable view of the president, but nearly as many -- 38% -- have an unfavorable opinion of him. That unfavorable rating is his highest since taking office.

    Other personal evaluations of the president reveal that he is viewed as a strong leader (although not as widely as in early 2002, a few months after the 9/11 attacks), and empathetic. However, only 41% think he shares their priorities – and that measure has declined quite a bit since early 2002. And fewer than four in ten have confidence in his economic decisions, down from 47% a year ago.

    Just over half of Americans think Bush is in charge of his administration, and about a third think others are running the show. While views of the president's leadership in this area were lower when he took office, they rose after 9/11 and have remained consistent since then.

    During the campaign for president in 2000, Bush said he would be a uniter, not a divider. Americans themselves are divided as to whether that has come to pass; 43% think his presidency has brought different groups of Americans together, while 44% think it has divided them.

    EVALUATING THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S DOMESTIC POLICY

    Perhaps reflecting the rising stock market, the Bush Administration receives more credit this year than before for a strengthening economy; 58% think the administration has made a lot or some progress improving the economy, up from 51% in January 2003. More now also think the administration has made progress reducing the cost of prescription drugs for the elderly, but that number is still less than a third. Minorities see progress being made at improving public schools, and keeping Social Security and Medicare afloat for future generations.

    There is evidence that many Americans see the improvements in the economy as a "jobless recovery." In fact, 45% think the administration's policies have caused the number of jobs to decrease, while less than half as many -- 19% -- think it has increased jobs.

    ADMINISTRATION POLICIES HAVE CAUSED JOBS TO:
    Increase
    19%
    Decrease
    45%
    Stay the same
    29%

    Few have seen much personal benefit as a result of the Bush tax cuts -- more think their taxes actually have risen. 32% say their taxes have gone up as a result of the administration's policies, while 19% say they have gone down. 44% have seen no change in their taxes.

    ADMINISTRATION POLICIES HAVE CAUSED YOUR TAXES TO:
    Go up
    32%
    Go down
    19%
    Not affected them
    44%

    Wealthier Americans are more likely to have perceived a benefit on their tax returns; 31% of those with incomes of %75,000 a year or more say their taxes have gone down.

    Views of the administration's policies are highly subject to partisanship; most Republicans see them as effective, Democrats view them as making little progress, and Independents are divided.

    EVALUATING THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S FOREIGN POLICY

    Just as dealing with terrorism is a strong suit for the President himself, it is also a strong suit for his administration. Two thirds of Americans think the administration's policies have made the U.S. safer from terrorism, and only 15% think it has become less safe.

    ADMINISTRATION POLICIES HAVE MADE U.S:
    Safer from terrorism
    68%
    Less safe from terrorism
    15%
    Not effect
    14%

    But the public is critical when it comes to relations with the rest of the world, especially the Arab world. By more than two to one, Americans think the U.S.' image among Arabs has become worse rather than better as a result of the Bush administration's policies.

    49% think leaders of other countries have respect for the president, but 43% think they do not. Just before the U.S.-led war against Iraq, many countries disagreed with U.S. plans for war, and just under half the public also thought Bush was respected. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, 67% thought Bush was respected by leaders of other countries.

    When it comes to handling an international crisis, views of the President are mixed: 49% are confident in his ability to handle such a situation, but just as many are uneasy. These figures represent a more negative view than was the case just after the war with Iraq began and in January 2002 -- in fact, current views closely resemble feelings about Bush prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

    THE WAR WITH IRAQ

    The war in Iraq divides the public in several ways: half the public thinks the war has made the United States safer from terrorism – but just as many say the overall result of that war was not worth its cost.

    A month after U.S. troops in Iraq captured Saddam Hussein, 50% now say the war has made the U.S. safer from terrorism, while 18% think the U.S. is less safe and 29% say the war hasn't made any difference.

    Seven in ten Republicans say the war with Iraq has made the U.S. safer from terrorism, compared with 36% of Democrats and 47% of Independents.

    Many also think that if Iraq becomes a stable democracy that may reduce the threat of terrorism against the U.S. While 52% say that would not make any difference, 38% believe the U.S. will be safer and only 6% think that would make the U.S. less safe.

    Despite these generally positive assessments, Americans are more likely to say the result of Iraq war was not worth the loss of American life and other costs than say it was worth it. 43% think the war in Iraq was worth it, but 51% say it was not.

    WAS IRAQ WAR WORTH THE COSTS?
    Yes
    43%
    No
    51%

    Views on whether the Iraq war was worth it correlates with evaluations of the war's impact on the fight against terrorism. Two-thirds of those who believe the war in Iraq has made the U.S. safer from terrorism say the war was worth it, while 87% of those whose think the U.S. is now less safe as a result of the war say the war was not worth it.

    The public gives the Bush Administration mixed reviews on its efforts to fight two wars at the same time. Half thinks the Bush Administration has struck the right balance between fighting the war in Iraq and fighting the Al Qaeda terrorists, but four in ten say the Administration has focused too much on Iraq and not enough on Al Qaeda. Very few think it has focused too much on Al Qaeda.

    This poll was taken after former Treasury Secretary O'Neill made the claim that President Bush decided to invade Iraq soon after his inauguration, eight months before the September 11th attacks. 33% of the public thinks the Bush Administration was telling all or most of what it knew about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before going to war. But more, 39%, think the Administration was hiding important elements of what it knew, and another one in five Americans believe it was mostly lying about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction before taking military action.

    The percentage of people who think the Bush Administration has been telling the truth about what it knew about the weapons in Iraq has decreased in the past two months, from 44% in November.

    Many Americans continue to think the Bush Administration rushed into the war in Iraq. 49% now say the Administration was too quick to get the U.S. militarily involved in Iraq; 35% think the timing was about right, and 13% say the U.S. was too slow to take military action.

    THE PRESIDENT'S RECENT INITIATIVES: IMMIGRATION REFORM

    Americans disagree with President Bush's immigration reform proposal to give illegal immigrant workers temporary work permits allowing them to work and stay in the U.S. legally for three years. Just one-third support the President's initiative.

    Those in the West are the most likely to support the President's temporary worker proposal: 46% of Westerners think illegal workers should be permitted to get temporary legal status; but slightly more -- 51% -- oppose it.
    Many Americans do not want to see even legal immigration into the U.S. increased. Just 16% think legal immigration to the U.S. should be increased, 45% think it should be decreased, and another one-third say immigration should be kept at its current level. Three months after the September 11th terrorist attacks, even more Americans said the immigration level should be decreased.

    More than half of Americans think immigrants coming to this country mostly take jobs Americans don't want, but many, 39%, say immigrants take jobs away from American citizens. These views are unchanged from 1996.

    Opinions on President Bush's immigration proposal correlate with other views about immigration and immigrants. Those who want the immigration level decreased are opposed to the new temporary worker program, as are 83% of those who say immigrants take jobs away from Americans.

    Many Americans do give immigrants credit for being hard workers. 46% say immigrants work harder than those who were born in this country; only 6% think immigrants do not work as hard.

    THE PRESIDENT'S RECENT INITIATIVES: SPACE

    Many Americans oppose some key elements of George W. Bush's recently announced space exploration program. A majority does not think a permanent space station on the moon is worth the costs and risks involved, and many are concerned that the country is already spending too much money on space programs. Also, while NASA's rover Spirit crawls the surface of Mars, public support for a manned mission there is divided, and lower than in previous polls.

    For the first time since the CBS News/New York Times Poll started asking the question, there is not a clear majority favoring sending astronauts to the red planet. 48% of Americans favor the idea of sending astronauts to explore Mars but just as many - 47% - oppose the idea. Up to now, Americans have been supportive of such a program. In 1999, 58% favored sending astronauts to Mars.

    Another component of Bush's proposal includes a permanent manned space station on the moon. The public opposes this. 58% do not think a permanent space station on the moon is worth the costs and risks involved; 35% say it is.

    IS A PERMANENT SPACE STATION ON THE MOON WORTH IT?
    Yes
    35%
    No
    58%

    The space program's projected cost -- about $12 billion over the next five years -- may be too high for many Americans. Just 17% think the U.S. should be spending more money on space programs. In fact, 40% now say the country is spending too much, more than thought so after the Columbia disaster.

    There are demographic differences when it comes to sending men (and women) to Mars. Men still favor the idea (and so do Republicans), while women are opposed (in 1999 54% of women favored the idea). Those under 30 appear most excited about the prospect of a manned mission to Mars: 66% of them favor the idea.

    THE PRESIDENT'S INITIATIVES: MANDATORY TESTING IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS

    One major component of President Bush's education reform policy – mandatory testing – gets majority support from the public. But an even larger majority opposes using the results of the testing to determine federal funding for public schools, something the No Child Left Behind Act requires.

    71% favor mandatory testing in public schools in order to determine the quality of education students receive, but support for mandatory testing drops to just 19% if the results of such tests are used to determine whether a school can receive federal funds, as outlined in the Act.

    77% of the public opposes giving federal money to schools where students score well on tests and withholding federal money from schools where students perform poorly. That includes more than seven in ten Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.

    THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION AND BIG BUSINESS

    Public perceptions that the administration's ties to big business are too close continue. Two thirds of Americans think big business has too much influence on the administration.

    A majority of Americans think the president himself puts the needs of big business above the needs of average Americans, and that view has become more widespread. 58% think he cares more about protecting the interests of large corporations, while 30% think he is more interested in protecting ordinary Americans.

    Views on this question may impact whether or not people think the president shares their priorities. 77% of those who think Bush cares more about large corporations also think he does not share their priorities, and 76% of those who think he cares about ordinary Americans think he does.

    Perceptions that the administration caters to the wealthy also persist -- in this poll, 57% think the administration's policies favor the rich. 11% think they favor the middle class and 25% think they treat all groups the same.

    BUSH POLICIES FAVOR:
    The rich
    57%
    The middle class
    11%
    The poor
    1%
    Treat all the same
    25%

    THE ECONOMY

    The public's views of the economy – while positive -- have slipped slightly since last month. Now, 54% think the economy is in good shape, while 45% think it is in bad shape. In December, 59% said the economy was good and 40% said it was bad.

    However, American's ratings of the economy are more positive now than they were a year ago. In January 2003, 55% of Americans said the economy was in bad shape.

    The public's outlook continues to be mixed: 34% think the economy is getting better, but more – 39% - think it is staying the same. A quarter says the economy is getting worse.

    In December, after the capture of Saddam Hussein, there was an uptick in the number of Americans who thought the country was headed in the right direction; now, views have slipped back to where they were in November: 53% say things in the U.S. have seriously gotten off on the wrong track, while 42% say things are going in the right direction. These perceptions mirror the opinions Americans had at the start of 2003.

    The public's mood seems to be tied to the economy. 75% of Americans who think the economy is in bad shape say the country is going in the wrong direction. Among those who say the economy is good, 60% think things in this country are going well.

    Half of Americans say the tax cuts enacted since 2001 have had no effect on the economy, 27% say the tax cuts have been good for the economy, while 17% think they have been bad. These views are nearly identical to what they were in the fall.

    Republicans and Democrats disagree on this question.

    DIRECTION OF THE COUNTRY

    When asked to compare things in the U.S. now to five years ago, 57% of Americans say things are worse today. Only 21% say things are better, while nearly as many think things are about the same as they were five years ago.

    However, more are optimistic than not about the future of country. 45% expect things in the United States to be better five years from now; a quarter say things will be worse.

    On the negative side, many Americans today feel the impact of a sluggish economy. Almost two-thirds of Americans are now having a difficult time keeping up with their bills – more than the number who said so two years ago. Then, 55% said they were having a hard time keeping up with their bills.

    71% of those who reside in the Northeast are having a hard time paying their bills – more than in any other region. Not surprisingly, those with lower incomes are more likely to say they are having a hard time keeping up.

    Moreover, nearly four in ten Americans (39%) are concerned that they or someone in their household will lose their job in the next year (including 21% who are very concerned).

    There are demographic differences on this question. Blacks are more likely than whites to be concerned about losing their job. Also, Americans without a college degree are more concerned than college graduates about them or someone in their household losing their job.

    In assessing their family's overall finances, about half of Americans report their financial situation is the same as it was when George W. Bush took office. 29% say they are worse off, and 20% say their family is better off financially.

    For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.


    This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1022 adults, interviewed by telephone January 12-15, 2004. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. Sampling error for subgroups may be higher.
    • Joel Arak

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