Poll: Mixed Expectations For Bush

An emotional George W. Bush resigns the Texas governorship. 12/21/00
In the days leading up to George W. Bush's inauguration as the nation's 43rd president, the American public is optimistic about the next four years but not necessarily enthusiastic about a Bush presidency.

Americans are divided about whether Bush shares their priorities, and questions about the legitimacy of the election continue to exist. Furthermore, a majority thinks it won't be Bush, but others, who will really be running the government during his presidency.

Most – 64 percent - are optimistic about the next four years, while 28 percent are pessimistic. However, enthusiasm is slightly lower for Bush than it was for previous incoming presidents, and pessimism is slightly higher. About seven in ten Americans felt optimistic just before Presidents Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter took office.


The 2000 election controversy still casts a cloud over the legitimacy of president-elect Bush, and may be responsible for the slightly lower enthusiasm for his presidency. Immediately before his inauguration, Bush is considered to have legitimately won the election by a majority of the American public - in this poll, 51 percent. But 43 percent still say he did not.


  Yes No
All 51% 43%

Democrats 19% 76%

Republicans 89% 7%

Whites 58% 37%

Blacks 12% 75%

As was the case right after the election's outcome, there are sharp divisions along party lines. About nine out of ten Republicans believe Bush's victory was legitimate, while three-quarters of

Democrats think he did not win legitimately. Blacks also reject Bush's win as legitimate by more than six to one.


Bush does have some of the advantages of incoming presidents. Forty-three percent of the public expects him to be a very good or good president, and 42 percent expect he will be average; 12 percent think he will be a poor president. These expectations are slightly better than those the public had of his father before he took office in 1988. Then, 38 percent expected George H. W. Bush to become a very good or good president.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls

 Very GoodGoodAveragePoor
George W. Bush





 Very GoodGoodAveragePoor
George H.W. Bush






Men have more positive expectations for the second Bush presidency than women do, and whites are much more enthusiastic than African-Americans.

The public continues to worry about the incoming president's lack of experience, both in general and in world affairs. When asked what worries them most about George W. Bush being president, 18 percent say they worry that he is not experienced or knowledgeable enough to be president and will probably delegate too much. Five percent volunteer his lack of experience in foreign policy; another 5 percent say Bush is influenced too much by the rich and special interest grous.

In fact, perceptions are divided as to whether Bush can deal with foreign affairs: 45 percent are confident in his ability to deal with an international crisis, while just as many are uneasy about his approach.

Americans are also divided about whether Bush shares their interests and needs. Forty-four percent think he shares their priorities for the country, and 46 percent say he does not. This isn't much different from evaluations of Bill Clinton as he began his second term in January 1997; then, 45 percent said Mr. Clinton shared their priorities. As he leaves office, Mr. Clinton fares slightly better in that assessment.

Given the growing questions about a slowing economy, it is no surprise that the economy shares the top spot on a list of problems the public would like the new government to address, something that was never the case during the campaign. Eleven percent volunteered it. The more usual campaign responses continue to be mentioned; 11 percent volunteer education, 9 percent cite Social Security/Medicare, 7 percent name taxes and health care is mentioned by 6 percent.

These are also the goals the American public would like to see their new president accomplish in the next four years. Ten percent mention the economy as the single most important thing they want George W. Bush to accomplish as president, followed by education, taxes, and Social Security and Medicare.

By 51 percent to 36 percent, the public prefers a smaller government offering fewer services to a bigger government that provides more services. This has been true for a number of years.


Most Americans (78 percent) recognize that Al Gore - and not George W. Bush - won the popular vote in last year's presidential election, but most don't think this will make it more difficult for Bush to accomplish his goals. Forty-one percent say not having the popular mandate will make it harder for Bush to achieve his goals, but 55 percent don't think it will make any difference. This view is shared across party lines.

Bush's difficulties as a result of not winning the popular vote may interfere with his ability to deliver on the goals he set forth during his campaign. Just under half think Bush will keep all or most of his campaign promises, while 42 percent think he will keep some of them. This is slightly lower than the expectations for Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan before they took office.

Part of the problem for Bush may be that he is not widely viewed as being in charge of his presidency. Fifty-three percent think that other people will really be running the country, while 38 percent think Bush will be in charge of what goes on most of the time. One month ago, slightly more people expected Bush to be in charge.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls

 Bush Other People



 Bush Other People




There are doubts in specific areas as to how much the public thinks Bush will be able to accomplish. Less than half think Bush will be able to accomplish several of his major specific goals - reducing prescription costs for seniors, cutting taxes for all Americans, and strengthening Social Security.

Improving education is one thing the majority of the public thinks Bush will be able to achieve – 55 percent now think Bush will be able to significantly improve education, up from 49 percent a month ago. Even so, this level of confidence is much lower than were expectations on the same issue just before George H. W. Bush took office. Then, 62 percent thought the first Bush President would be able to significantly improve education.


A majority of the public rejects two educational policies George W. Bush has proposed - giving parents tax-funded vouchers to help pay for tuition for their children to attend private or religious schools, and using the results of mandatory testing to determine whether a school gets federal funding. But, there is strong support for mandatory testing in general.

Forty-three percent agree that parents should get tax-funded vouchers to help pay for private or religious schools; 51 percent disagree. And while 82 percent favor mandatory testing of students in public schools as a way to determine how well the school is doing educating students, the public overwhelmingly opposes using such tests to determine whether or not a school can receive federal money. Only 23 percent favor this proposal, while 73 percent oppose it.

U.S. Image

Another area where people expect accomplishment has to do with the U.S. image abroad. The public believes the incoming president will see to it that the United States is respected by other countries. Seventy-six percent of Americans think Bush will accomplish this. Just before he took office, four in five said the same for Bill Clinton.

But regardless, more than eight in ten Americans expect that Bush's presidency will not have much impact on their own lives. Fifteen percent think he will have a great deal of power to affect their daily lives, 50 percent think he will have some power to do so, and 32 percent think he will have little impact on their lives.


Moral Qualities

The public sees his morality as one of Bush's great strengths, and it is the most striking contrast between him and the man he replaces in the White House. Seven in ten say that Bush shares the moral values that most Americans try to live by, while 21 percent say he does not. In contrast, 60 percent of Americans think that outgoing President Bill Clinton does not share their moral values.

Fifty-six percent trust Bush to keep his word as president, and 33 pecent do not. There is more division on Bush's public statements; 44 percent think Bush says what he believes, while 49 percent think he says what he thinks people want to hear.

There are continuing doubts among the African American community, even in these perceptions. Forty-nine percent of African Americans say Bush does not share their moral values. Sixty percent think he cannot be trusted to keep his word, and 86 percent think he says what he thinks people want to hear. Women are also less likely than men to trust the incoming president, or to think he is sincere.


Perceptions of Bush's leadership skills have deteriorated since just before the election. Then, 70 percent of registered voters felt he had strong qualities of leadership. Now, 57 percent of registered voters (and the public as a whole) feel that way.

Part of the reason fewer people see Bush as a strong leader today may be that he has spent the past month appointing strong candidates to senior-level Cabinet positions and talking about his desire to delegate authority to them, a perception underscored by the majority who now says others will really be in charge of a Bush presidency.

Getting Along

Despite Bush's claim that he is a uniter, not a divider, fewer than half of Americans agree. Forty-three percent think his presidency will bring different groups of Americans together, but 39 percent think his presidency will divide them. Among African-Americans, 55 percent think Bush's presidency will divide Americans.

Bush gets mixed ratings on being empathetic; 53 percent of the public thinks Bush cares about their needs and problems. Although Bush does not rank as poorly as Ronald Reagan did on this measure prior to his inauguration, Bush falls far short of perceptions of Mr. Clinton before he took office. To a lesser extent, he also falls short of perceptions about his father prior to his presidency.

Even though he has appointed African-Americans to Cabinet-level positions, few think he cares much about their needs and problems. Seventy-two percent say he does not, and 16 percent say he does. Among whites, 60 percent say he cares about their needs.

One group people do expect Bush to get along with is Congress, despite the election and the close division there. Nearly two-thirds think President-elect Bush and the Congress will be able to work together. Sixty-four percent think George W. Bush will be able to work with members of both parties in order to get things done, and six out of ten think Democrats in Congress will work with the incoming president.

However, the public is negative about the prospect of the parties themselves working together, and expects partisanship to increase, not decrease, in a closely divided Congress. By 49 percent to 30 percent, the public thinks partisanship is likely to increase in a Congress with such close division of seats in both the House and the Senate.


Overall, views of Bush remain positive: 44 percent of Americans have a favorable image of him, and 30 percent have a negative image. Those opinions haven't changed much since the end of October. While positive, there is a cloud. Bush receives the highest negative rating of any incoming president in the past twenty years.

As for incoming Vice President Dick Cheney, nearly half of Americans don't have an opinion of him yet. Thirty-seven percent are favorable, and 17 percent are not. Although views of Cheney aren't quite as positive as they were for George H.W. Bush in 1980, they far surpass the mostly negative assessments of Dan Quayle in 1989.

And as for outgoing vice president and losing Democratic candidate Al Gore, perceptions now have remained higher since his concession in early December. Now, 44 percent of registered voters have a favorable impression of Gore, and 40 percent have a negative view of him.

Opinions of Gore are better than they were for other losing presidential candidates, including those who had previously served as President. Now, positive views of Gore surpass negative views by four points. In contrast, for George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter negative opinion outweighed positive opinion.

The Congress also faces public concern. The close division in both Houses has caused questions about its likely performance. Twenty-six percent think the new Congress will do a better job than in previous years, compared with 48 percent who thought so in 1993 when the 103rd Congress came in. Sixty-two percent now expect the new Congress will do the same job as in the past, while 9 percent say it will do a worse job.


By 47 percent to 23 percent, Americans say last year's election controversy has weakened democracy by pointing out serious flaws in the system, rather than strengthened it. Another 23 percent say it had no real impact one way or the other.

Still, 72 percent say having elections make the government pay at least some attention to what people think – 36 percent - say having elections make the government pay a good deal of attention to the people, another 36 percent say it makes the government pay some attention. Twenty-seven percent of all Americans, and one-third of young people under age 30, don't think elections make the government pay much attention.

Currently 31 percent of Americans (32 percent of registered voters) say they can trust the government to do what is right always or most of the time. That is down from last October when 40 percent of registered votes said they could trust the government always or most of the time. Sixty-four percent now trust the government some of the time.
This poll was conducted by telephone January 15-17, 2001, among 1,086 adults nationwide. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the entire sample. Sampling error for subgroups may be hgher.

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