Poll: Doubts Over Bush Plan Costs

BUSH : President Bush delivers his State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2004. AP

Americans who watched or listened to President Bush's State of the Union message said they generally liked what they heard – but opinions did not change much on many specific questions, and by a two to one margin viewers doubted that the government would be able to afford all the proposals president mentioned in his speech.

After the speech ended, CBS News re-interviewed a sample of individuals first called last week, before the speech and before the official Iowa start of the Democratic nominating campaign. About half the respondents, a lower proportion than usual, said they had watched or listened to the speech. Those who did watch or listen went into the speech with a more positive evaluation of the president's job performance than the nation as a whole. Historically, a president's supporters are more likely to watch his speeches.

After listening to the speech, 60% of watchers said they generally approved of the proposals the president made, but a similar percentage said they doubted the government could afford them.


SPEECH WATCHERS: BUSH PROPOSALS
Approve
60%
Disapprove
21%

CAN GOVERNMENT AFFORD SPEECH PROPOSALS?
Yes
29%
No
62%

When asked to name the proposal they liked the best, domestic proposals dominated. The President's Medicare plans, his tax cuts and his education proposals were the most frequently mentioned, though each of them was specifically cited by less than one in ten viewers. The President's proposals for defense of marriage, keeping children off drugs, and faith-based initiatives were less frequently mentioned.

Positive assessment of the 2001 tax cuts improved significantly among the public after the speech. Before the speech, just 27% of all Americans said the cuts enacted in 2001 were good for the economy; afterwards, 39% said they were.

2001 BUSH TAX CUTS
Before Speech

Good for Economy
27%
Bad for Economy
17%
No Effect
51%

After Speech
Good for Economy
39%
Bad for Economy
12%
No Effect
47%

Half the public – and even more of speech watchers – says those tax cuts should be made permanent, something the President specifically asked for in his address. Those who did not see the speech are less likely to think so.

SHOULD 2001 TAX CUTS BE PERMANENT?
All

Yes
50%
No
41%

Watchers
Yes
58%
No
34%

Non-watchers
Yes
42%
No
49%

The President's proposal to give illegal immigrants temporary work permits remains controversial, though support has grown a bit following the speech. Before the address, the public opposed the proposal 65% to 32%. Afterwards, it opposes it 54% to 40%.

There was less movement after the speech in some critical foreign policy areas. Watchers were unmoved by the President's description of gains in Iraq. In the pre-State of the Union CBS News/New York Times poll, 51% of Americans said the result of the war in Iraq was not worth the cost. After the speech, 52% say that.

WAS WAR IN IRAQ WORTH THE COST?
Before

Yes
43%
No
51%

After
Yes
41%
No
52%

And the President's discussion of continued possible threats from terrorists may have even moved people in a negative direction. Before the speech, 68% said the Administration's policies had made the U.S. safer from terrorism, but after the speech, 60% say so.

ASSESSING THE PRESIDENT

While speech viewers – as is often the case – generally approved of what they heard last night, today the public remains somewhat skeptical of whether the President himself is on their side. When asked whether or not he has the same priorities for the U.S. as they do, as many say he does not as think he does.

DOES GEORGE W. BUSH SHARE YOUR PRIORITIES?
Before

Yes
41%
No
54%

After
Yes
48%
No
48%

Most of those who watched believed the President shared their priorities even before the speech, but most of those who did not watch the speech continue to be dubious.

There continues to be uneasiness overall about the President's ability to make the right decisions about the economy, although the speech brought some gains in confidence. But 51% still say they are uneasy; 47% are confident now.

BUSH'S ABILITY TO MAKE RIGHT ECONOMIC DECISIONS
Before

Confident
39%
Uneasy
57%

After
Confident
47%
Uneasy
51%

There is also concern about the President's ability to make the right decisions about health care; even among those who watched the speech, barely half were confident in that.

BUSH'S ABILITY TO MAKE RIGHT HEALTH CARE DECISIONS
All

Confident
42%
Uneasy
50%

Watchers
Confident
50%
Uneasy
43%

Non-watchers
Confident
33%
Uneasy
58%

Those who watched the speech went into it with a more favorable view of the president's job performance than the nation as a whole. In last week's CBS News/New York Times poll, half the nation approved of President Bush's job performance, but nearly two-thirds of those who watched Tuesday's address had said they approved of the President's job performance when interviewed last week.

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


After the president's State of the Union message, CBS News called back a sample of 390 adults who had been part of the January 12-15, 2004 CBS News/New York Times Poll. The error due to sampling on results based on the total sample could be plus or minus five percentage points. The error when measuring change among the same individuals is smaller.
  • John Esterbrook

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