Poll: Low 2nd Term Expectations

CBS News/New York Times poll graphic CBS/AP

As President George W. Bush enters his second term, Americans remain divided over his presidency. While most are generally optimistic about the coming four years under his stewardship, they have low expectations for what the President will be able to accomplish. They are not upbeat about the prospects for the economy, their taxes, or the war in Iraq.

58 percent of Americans are optimistic about the coming four years with Bush. But when he first took office in January 2001, this measure stood at 64 percent. Optimism is also lower than the 66 percent rating when Bill Clinton took his oath of office for a second time in January 1997.

OUTLOOK ON THE NEXT FOUR YEARS WITH BUSH?
Bush Term II Now
Optimistic
58%
Pessimistic
36%

Bush Term I 1/2001
Optimistic
64%
Pessimistic
28%

Clinton Term II 1/1997
Optimistic
66%
Pessimistic
29%

Americans re-elected George W. Bush despite a widespread feeling that the nation was on the wrong track; his re-election has not changed that view. 56 percent today say the nation is on the wrong path.

DIRECTION OF THE COUNTRY
Right Direction
Now
39%
10/2004
43%
1/2002
52%

Wrong Track
Now
56%
10/2004
55%
1/2002
35%

Bush begins his second term with an overall approval rating lower than that of any U.S. president reelected to the office in half a century. Bush's 49 percent approval rating is lower than Nixon's 51 percent in January 1973, and much lower than Clinton's 60 percent, Reagan's 62 percent, and Eisenhower's 73 percent at this point in their presidencies.

BUSH VS. OTHER PRESIDENTS:
APPROVAL RATINGS ON THE EVE OF SECOND INAUGURATIONS
Bush 1/2005
Approve
49%
Disapprove
46%

Clinton 1/1997
Approve
60%
Disapprove
32%

Reagan 1/1985
Approve
62%
Disapprove
29%

Gallup Polls
Nixon 1//1973
Approve
51%
Disapprove
37%

Eisenhower 1/1957
Approve
73%
Disapprove
14%

In what may be even more evidence of a nation still divided, views shift with partisanship. Bush voters see the nation on the right track and are, not surprisingly, optimistic about his next term; Senator John Kerry's voters (who of course wanted tomorrow's events to look different) overwhelmingly think it is off course, and are pessimistic.

Presidents often use their inaugural speeches to reach out to political opponents or heal wounds from the campaign. But if Bush makes such an overture Thursday, he faces a public somewhat skeptical that he can indeed unite the nation. 44 percent say his presidency will bring Americans together, but 47 percent think it will divide them.

WILL BUSH'S PRESIDENCY…?
Bring Americans together 44%
Divide them 47%

THE NEXT FOUR YEARS
When Americans look ahead four years across a range of topics and policies, many see a future that looks very much like the present.

Most feel the U.S. will be as safe from terror by the end of a second Bush term as it is today, but not safer. A plurality says the economy will be the same by 2008, but nearly as many think it will be better and just over a quarter think it will be worse. And Americans are divided in their outlook for the level of troops in Iraq; slightly more expect there to be fewer troops, but nearly as many expect troop levels in Iraq to either remain the same or go up.

Perhaps responding to the emphasis President Bush has placed on changing the Social Security system, Americans do expect to see a different system of some sort in place by 2008 (even though many reject his call for private accounts). But they see a bleak future on other fronts: more than six in ten see a bigger budget deficit. Nearly half think senior citizens will pay more – not less - for their prescription drugs. A great majority thinks their own taxes will be the same or higher; very few see their taxes dropping.

LOOKING AHEAD FROM TODAY: BY THE END OF BUSH'S SECOND TERM…?
The economy will be…
Better
33%
Same
38%
Worse
27%

The education system will be…
Better
24%
Same
55%
Worse
18%

U.S. safety from terror will be…
Safer
29%
Same
52%
Less safe
17%

Your taxes will be…
Higher
41%
Same
47%
Lower
9%

The budget deficit will be…
Bigger
66%
Same
24%
Smaller
8%

Seniors' prescription drugs will cost them…
More
45%
Same
36%
Less
15%

The number of troops in Iraq will be…
More
30%
Same
28%
Less
38%

Respect for U.S. from other nations will be…
More
17%
Same
50%
Less
32%

The Social Security System will be…
Very different
22%
Somewhat different
48%
Not different
25%

Most Americans do not yet believe the Administration can pay for all it wants: just 17 percent think it is possible to make changes in Social Security, lower taxes, and pay for the war without also increasing the deficit as well.

THE WAR ON TERROR
Many Americans see the broader war on terrorism locked in a stalemate. 39 percent say the U.S. is winning the war on terror while about as many, 41 percent, say neither the U.S. nor the terrorists have the upper hand. Just after Bush's re-election, the number who thought the U.S. was winning was higher; and in the spring of 2003, near the end of the war with Iraq, most saw the U.S. winning.

WHO IS WINNING THE WAR ON TERROR?
The U.S.
Now
39%
11/2004
44%
5/2003
53%

Neither side
Now
41%
11/2004
38%
5/2003
35%

The terrorists
Now
17%
11/2004
12%
5/2003
9%

LOOKING AHEAD: COOPERATION AND CONFLICT
Americans do see the President compromising with Congress-- which is controlled by members of his own party: 55 percent believe he will, 38 percent say he will not. But Americans see no end to partisan bickering in Washington. Only 17 percent expect to see more cooperation between Republicans and Democrats than there has been over the last four years; 60 percent say there will be the same amount as before.

COMPARED TO LAST FOUR YEARS, COOPERATION BETWEEN DEMS AND REPS WILL BE:
More 17%
Same 60%
Less 21%

THE SUPREME COURT AND THE ABORTION DEBATE
Americans split on whether they think abortions will be legal or against the law by the end of George W. Bush's second term.

BY THE END OF BUSH'S SECOND TERM, ABORTIONS WILL BE…
Legal 47%
Illegal 43%

A slight majority of John Kerry's voters, and nearly half of Bush's, do expect it to remain legal, though Americans continue to divide on whether abortion should be legal or not, or in what forms. 36 percent say it should be generally available, 35 percent say it should be available but under stricter limits, and 26 percent say abortion should not be permitted.

If one or two Supreme Court justices retire in the coming years, they will leave vacancies for George W. Bush to fill. The majority of Americans expect that if any new justices are appointed, they would be judges who would ultimately vote to make abortion against the law.

JUSTICES APPOINTED BY BUSH WOULD…
Keep abortion legal 15%
Make abortion against the law 71%

On the whole, however, the bulk of Americans -- 44 percent -- believe that Bush would make judicial appointments ideologically in line with what they'd like to see. 33 percent suspect the President will appoint justices who would be generally more conservative than they'd like, and 15 percent worry he'd make appointments that generally aren't conservative enough.

BUSH'S COURT APPOINTMENTS WOULD PROBABLY BE…
More conservative than you'd like 33%
Not conservative enough 15%
About right 44%

THE BUSH AGENDA: SOCIAL SECURITY
In the past few weeks President Bush has focused on an ambitious restructuring of the Social Security system as a top priority for his second term. Nearly half the public says they have a heard or read something about Bush's proposed changes to Social Security. But there is a fair amount of public skepticism both about the Bush Administration's claims that Social Security is in a crisis and its specific solution -- private investment accounts.

Half of the public thinks the Social Security system is really in a crisis, while 40 percent think people are being told there is a crisis so that political leaders can make the changes to the program they want.

IS SOCIAL SECURITY REALLY IN A CRISIS?
Yes 50%
No, just being told that 40%

And many think the President is catering more to the needs of Wall Street than to Main Street. When talking about the changes he wants to make to the Social Security system, 40 percent think Bush is trying more to help average Americans, but even more, 50 percent, think he is trying to help Wall Street investment companies.

While many Americans don't see a system in crisis, there has been long-term concern about the program. For more than twenty years, a sizable percentage of the public has been skeptical about whether the Social Security system will provide them with the benefits they expect. In this poll, 54 percent expect Social Security will not have the money available to provide them with the benefits they expect for their retirement. People under age 45 are especially wary of relying on Social Security: just 29 percent of those age 18 to 29 and 21 percent of those age 30 to 44 think it will provide them with retirement benefits. Two-thirds of those under 30 and three quarters of those age 30 to 44 do not expect Social Security to provide the benefits they'd expect when they retire.

WILL SOCIAL SECURITY PROVIDE YOU WITH RETIREMENT BENEFITS?
Yes
All
34%
18-29
29%
30-44
21%
45-64
46%

No
All
54%
18-29
65%
30-44
75%
45-64
47%

WILL SOCIAL SECURITY PROVIDE YOU WITH RETIREMENT BENEFITS?

Yes
Now
34%
1/2002
34%
2/2001
39%
3/1995
35%
1/1983
27%

No
Now
54%
1/2002
46%
2/2001
48%
3/1995
53%
1/1983
58%

There is a belief that changes do need to be made to the Social Security system. 51 percent think the system generally works well, but it still needs some fundamental changes. Another 24 percent think it has so much wrong with it that it needs to be completely redone, while a similar percentage thinks the system works pretty well and needs only minor changes.

VIEW OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY SYSTEM
Works but needs fundamental changes 51%
Needs to be completely redone 24%
Works well, needs only minor changes 23%

But there is little public agreement about what should be done, and no consensus about the Bush plan to partially privatize the system. 45 percent think it is a good idea to allow individuals to invest some of their Social Security taxes on their own, but 50 percent think it is a bad idea. This marks the lowest level of support for partial privatization since this poll began asking about it four years ago.

ALLOWING PEOPLE TO INVEST THEIR SOCIAL SECURITY TAXES IS:
Good idea
Now
45%
1/2002
54%
6/2001
48%

Bad idea
Now
50%
1/2002
39%
6/2001
46%

Support for privatization sinks even lower when people are told it would mean the guaranteed benefit paid to retirees would be reduced by as much as a third. Then, only 22 percent think privatization is a good idea.

ALLOWING PEOPLE TO INVEST THEIR SOCIAL SECURITY TAXES IF GUARANTEED BENEFITS ARE CUT:
Good idea 22%
Bad idea 70%

Moreover, few say they would participate in such a system. Only 17 percent say they are very likely to invest some of their Social Security taxes in the stock market, and another 22 percent are somewhat likely. Six in ten say they would not be likely to do so.

HOW LIKELY WOULD YOU BE TO INVEST YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY?
Very likely 17%
Somewhat likely 22%
Not very/not at all likely 59%

And when asked whether they would invest their Social Security taxes if it meant they would receive lower payments from the government, 30 percent say they would be very or somewhat likely to do so.

In part, public reluctance to invest their Social Security taxes could be because few Americans trust their ability to invest wisely. Only 19 percent are very confident in their abilities to invest their own money, and another 33 percent are somewhat confident. 45 percent are not confident.

CONFIDENCE IN INVESTMENT SKILLS

Very confident 19%
Somewhat confident 33%
Not very/not at all confident 45%

There are some segments of the population who are more receptive to investing themselves -- not surprisingly, those who already own investments in the market (or who have a spouse that does) and those with higher incomes. Investors are more than twice as likely as non-investors to say they would be very or somewhat likely to invest their Social Security taxes themselves (53 percent versus 23 percent), and they are more savvy about investing. 65 percent of them are very or somewhat confident in their investing skills, compared to 38 percent of non-investors.

Those with the highest incomes would also be more likely to invest their Social Security taxes themselves. Two in five of those with annual incomes of $100,000 or more say they would be very likely to do so, and one-third would do so even if it meant they would receive less from the government once they retire. These Americans are the most comfortable with their own investment abilities; 38 percent are very confident in their own investment management decisions, and another 40 percent are somewhat confident. In part, the comfort these high income Americans have with investing may be because most have experience at it -- 87 percent say they or a spouse currently has money invested in the stock market.

ATTITUDES TOWARD INVESTING SOCIAL SECURITY THEMSELVES

Very likely
Investors
26%
Non-investors
6%
$100k+
23%

Somewhat likely
Investors
27%
Non-investors
$100k+
22%

Not very/not at all likely
Investors
46%
Non-investors
75%
$100k+
37%

Very confident
Investors
26%
Non-investors
12%
$100k+
38%

Somewhat confident
Investors
39%
Non-investors
26%
$100k+
40%

Not very/not at all confident
Investors
34%
Non-investors
60%
$100k+
25%

The stakes for losing retirement money in the market are high; 84 percent of Americans think the government should NOT bail out people who invest their Social Security funds and then lose money. Only 13 percent think it is the government's responsibility to make up the losses.

Despite some unease with investing themselves, Americans claim they will rely less on Social Security and more on their own savings after they retire. 17 percent of those who are not yet retired expect they will rely mostly on Social Security, while 55 percent expect to use their own retirement savings. 22 percent expect a pension plan to provide most of their retirement income. That represents quite a change compared to the financial arrangements of current retirees. 45 percent of them say their major source of income is Social Security, and 24 percent say their own savings make up the bulk of their income.


HOW WILL YOU FINANCE RETIREMENT
MAJOR RETIREMENT INCOME
Not currently retired
Social Security
17%
Own savings
55%
Pension
22%

Current retirees
Social Security
45%
Own savings
24%
Pension
23%

But few of those who expect to finance retirement themselves are saving much. 47 percent of those who say they plan to rely on personal savings actually saved 10 percent or less of their income last year. Another 17 percent have saved nothing.


Click here for Part 2 of the poll.
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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