Poll: The Home Front

CBS News/New York Times poll graphic CBS/AP

Americans' views of President George W. Bush have changed dramatically during his first year in office, and the public gives him high marks now, days before his first State of the Union address. Many of those positive evaluations come as a result of his handling of the war against terrorism, but there are unexpected changes, too.

As the war has drawn attention away from domestic policies, and Sept. 11 focused attention on the President's response to terrorism, Americans now see Mr. Bush as being in charge of his administration. And more now perceive him as a moderate.

But Mr. Bush continues to be dogged by views that his policies favor the rich, and that he is beholden to big business. There is still uneasiness about some of the president's economic policies, especially his tax cut, and the public still gives Democrats the edge on many domestic issues.

Domestic and economic problems now eclipse the war as the country's most important problem. The looming budget deficit is considered a bad thing; many would rather postpone additional tax cuts to offset it. And most people would prefer to have used the tax cut money on domestic programs.

George W. Bush

Mr. Bush has overcome what used to be a weakness for him — the perception that others in the Administration were really running the government. Now, 52 percent think he is really in charge of what goes on in his administration most of the time, and 42 percent say that other people are running things. Last March, more people thought others were in charge than thought Mr. Bush was.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls
Who's In Charge Of Government?

 NowMarch 2001
Mr. Bush

52%

42%


 NowMarch 2001
Other People

42%

50%

CBSNEWS Polls

Quite clearly, the attacks and subsequent war have also strengthened views of President Bush as a leader. Before Sept. 11, just over half of the public viewed him that way; now, 82 percent say he is a strong leader.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls
Think Mr. Bush Has Strong Qualities Of Leadership?

 NowSept.June
Yes

82%

70%

54%


 NowSept.June
No

16%

19%
/p>

38%

CBSNEWS Polls

More people also now think Mr. Bush cares about people like themselves. 76 percent think he cares a lot or some, up from 60 percent in June. Only 47 percent of blacks think he cares about people like themselves (nevertheless, 63 percent of blacks approve of the job he is doing as president).

Perhaps because public attention has been focused on events overseas and not on the president's domestic policies, Mr. Bush is now seen as a more moderate political figure. Forty-one percent now say he is a moderate, up from 24 percent last June. Forty-one percent call him a conservative (down from 53 percent).

The President's overall job approval rating stands at 82 percent, not much different from what it has been since just after the attacks on Sept. 11. Eighty-seven percent approve of the job he is doing handling the campaign against terrorism, 70 percent approve of his handling of foreign policy, and 56 percent approve of his handling of the economy. Despite the current recession, the public has confidence in Mr. Bush's ability to manage the economy. Eighty-one percent have a lot or some confidence in his ability to make the right decisions about the economy, up from 70 percent last March.

There are some chinks in President Bush's armor. While most believe he cares about them, they think his policies are not fair to all. Fifty percent think the Administration's policies favor the rich, and 28 percent think they treat all groups the same.

Bush Policies Favor:
Rich 50%
Middle class 14%
Poor 2%
Treat all the same 28%

These views are consistent across all income groups. Partisanship plays a strong role, however: 75 percent of Democrats think Bush's policies favor the rich, compared to 22 percent of Republicans.

Mr. Bush's tax cuts may have triggered this view. Nearly six in ten Americans believe those cuts were unfair because they favored the rich. Just over a third think the tax cut was fair to all Americans.

Mr. Bush's Tax Cuts Were...
Fair to all 36%
Unfair, benefited the rich 56%


President Bush's Tax Cuts

Although most Americans have already received the first fruits of Mr. Bush's tax cuts, most would sacrifice them to help offset the projected budget deficit. Many don't think the tax cuts were the right thing to do, and many also think the tax cuts had little effect on the economy. Th public would postpone additional tax cuts in favor of deficit reduction.

Two-thirds now say President Bush's tax cut was not the best thing to do with the surplus, and that the money would have been better spent on programs like Social Security and Medicare. Just over a quarter say it was the best thing to do. These views are virtually identical to those last June, right after President Bush's tax cut package was passed.

Was Cutting Taxes The Best Thing To Do?
Now - 6/01
Yes 27% - 28%
No, should have used the money on programs 65% - 64%

Overall, the public doesn't think the tax cuts have done much for the economy. A majority, 56 percent, says the tax cuts have not made much difference, while 28 percent say the tax cuts have been good for the economy, and 13 percent think the tax cuts have been bad. Positive assessment of the effect of the tax cuts is now lower than it was last June, when nearly one-third thought tax cuts would be good for the economy, and half said it would not make much difference.

As would be expected, partisanship plays a strong role in people's views, with Republicans more supportive of the tax cuts and Democrats more critical.


The Budget

One of the primary reasons Americans are lukewarm about President Bush's tax cut may be that it is seen as contributing to (but not solely responsible for) a budget deficit. Large majorities think a budget deficit would be bad, and want the government to postpone future tax cuts so as to not risk one.

Budget Deficit Is...
A good thing 22%
A bad thing 65

When asked to choose between risking a budget deficit in order to cut taxes, or postponing future tax cuts, six in ten Americans support postponing further tax cuts in order to not risk a budget deficit. Twenty-eight percent think risking a budget deficit to cut taxes over the next few years is a good way to manage the federal budget.

At least for now, the public blames the war on terrorism and the economic recession, and not so much last year's tax cuts, for the projected budget deficit. However, among those who do attribute the projected budget deficit to tax cuts, 68 percent say the tax cuts were not worth it.

Nearly half of Americans don't see any negative impact on domestic programs as a result of the tax cuts. Still, most of those who do think the tax cuts have hurt domestic programs find that unacceptable. Thirty-three percent think the tax cuts have negatively affected domestic programs, and say that is not okay.

Did Tax Cuts Hurt Domestic Programs?
Yes, acceptable 8%
Yes, not acceptable 33%
No 46%

Sacrificing domestic programs for the sake of the war is more palatable to Americans than doing so for the sake of a tax cut. Although nearly half think the war has not had an impact on domestic programs, half of those who think it has are willing to accept those costs. A quarter say the war on terrorism is hurting domesti programs, but that is acceptable, while 23 percent say domestic programs are hurt because of the war and it is not acceptable.

Nearly half of Americans understand that the government is now in deficit — that is, taking in less money than it spends. However, just as many are confused as to the state of the current federal budget, perhaps because of the recent arguing between the President and the Democrats on the budget issue. Twenty-eight percent still think the budget is in a surplus, (down from the 39 percent just four months ago), and 19 percent think it is balanced and takes in as much as it spends.


Public Priorities

The public's views on domestic issues have changed little since the war began. Sixty-eight percent say reducing the cost of prescription drugs for the elderly matters a lot to them personally. Fifty-six percent agree that protecting the environment is so important that improvements must be made regardless of cost. Eighty-seven percent would like to see at least fundamental changes made to the health care system.

The economy is now at the top of a list of issues the public most wants the government to address. Twenty-sven percent name the economy or jobs as the issue they most want Congress and the President to deal with this year; 25 percent cite terrorism, war or defense.

Most Important Issue For Government
Economy and jobs 27%
Terrorism, war and safety 25%
Education 5%
Taxes 5%
Social Security/Medicare 4%


Looking Ahead: Congress And The State Of The Union

Congress' job approval is down from the highs reached soon after the September attacks. Forty-seven percent now approve of Congress' job, and 37 percent disapprove.

However, optimism about bipartisanship remains high. Nearly two-thirds think Mr. Bush will work with the Democrats in Congress, and vice versa, to get things done.

Support for the principle of bipartisanship runs very strong: 75 percent think both groups should compromise their positions in order to get things done, while 16 percent believe each should stick to its position, even if it means less gets accomplished.

Despite attempts by Republicans to portray him as an obstacle to bipartisanship, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle remains an enigma to most Americans — 55 percent of the public say they haven't heard enough about him to have an opinion and 18 percent are undecided.

Divided control, with Republican the majority in the House of Representatives and Democrats the majority in the Senate, has probably confused many people; only 41 percent of Americans know that the Republicans are the majority party in the House of Representatives. Thirty-nine percent think the Democrats are the House majority. Most think it does make a difference who controls Congress. And at this early date, the fall elections for the House of Representatives look to be close. Amog registered voters, 39 percent say they will vote for the Democratic candidate in their district, and 37 percent will vote for the Republican.


Republicans Vs. Democrats

Opinions of both parties have improved in the post-attack climate. Fifty-eight percent now have a favorable impression of the Republican party, up from 46 percent in August. The same percentage have a positive view of the Democratic party, up from 53 percent.

But when it comes to views of the parties' strength, little has changed. Republicans retain their traditional edge on keeping the military defenses strong, and that also gives them a lead on dealing with terrorism.

Democrats retain their traditional strengths on issues such as the environment, health care and Social Security. Democrats have also traditionally led on making sure the tax system is fair. There has been one recent change, however; the Democrat's edge on handling Social Security has grown considerably since the question was last asked in March 2001. Then, the Democrats had an 8-point lead; that has risen to a 17-point lead now.

Views of the two parties are closer on issues centering on education, the budget and spending, of which the latter two promise to be hotly contested partisan issues in the upcoming session of Congress.

Should President Bush and the Democrats not be able to reach agreement on the budget, Mr. Bush will have a slight edge, at least in public opinion — but this is a traditionally Republican issue. Forty percent think Mr. Bush is more likely to make the right decisions about balancing the federal budget, and 33 percent think the Democrats in Congress are more likely. That represents a change since August, when Democrats in Congress had the edge over Mr. Bush, by 44 percent to 35 percent.

Mr. Bush now has a slightly wider margin over the Democrats than the Republicans do on this issue (7 points versus 5 points).


Views Of Government

The increasing trust in government that emerged after the September attacks remains. Forty-six percent feel they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right always or most of the time; one year ago, not long after the resolution of the disputed presidential election, only 31 percent felt that way.

On another measure, the results are both positive and negative. Fewer people now feel that the country is headed in the right direction than thought so last month, but this is still higher than the percentage who felt that way last June. Fifty-two percent now say the country is headed in the right direction, and 35 percent think the country has seriously gotten off on the wrong track. The up tick seen in December undoubtedly reflects a rallying effect after the events of last fall, and while that has diminished somewhat, it still exists.

Those who think the economy is in bad shape are much more likely to think the county is headed off on the wrong track.


The Economy

Assessments of the economy remain at the low levels seen throughout most of 2001. Fifty-two percent now say the condition of the national economy is in good shape, while 46 percent say the economy is bad — unchanged from a CBS News Poll conducted a week ago. One year ago, evaluations were mostly positive, but even those had begun to drop from the high levels seen throughout 2000.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans say the nation's economy is worse today compared to one year ago. Sixty-four percent say the economy today is worse than it was a year ago; 28 percent say it is about the same, and just 6 percent think the today's economy is better than one year ago.

The public's outlook for the economy is guarded at best. Eighteen percent say the economy is getting better, 33 percent think the economy is getting worse, and 48 percent think it is staying the same.

But the worsened economy has not yet had a broad negative effect on the personal finances of most American families. Fifty-seven percent say their family's financial situation has not changed much compared to one year ago, while 19 percent say it is better today. Twenty-three percent, however, say their family's finances are worse than one year ago.

Although most men and women say their finances are the same as they were, men are slightly more likely than women to say theirs are better (23 percent vs. 15 percent).

Fifty-five percent of Americans find it very or somewhat hard to keep up with their bills, and 45 percent say that is somewhat or very easy.

Not surprisingly, those with higher incomes are more likely than those with lower incomes to find their family in a better financial situation today compared to a year ago, and to say it is easy to keep up with the bills.

This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1,034 adults, interviewed by telephone January 21-24, 2002. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points.


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





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  • Michael Wuebben

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