Can Bush’s Approval Defy Political Gravity?

Preznint DrunkuncleGeorge Bush’s approval ratings have shown signs of tanking in recent days. Is the trend real?

Every other day or so, I check the Rasmussen polling site to track Bush’s approval rating. Rasmussen often shows Bush a few percentage points better than other polls, and being the cautious fellow that I am, I look to them for the best[worst] case. If Rasmussen shows Bush tanking, it suggests he’s really tanking.

I like the way Rasmussen breaks out the categories — somewhat approve, strongly approve, somewhat disapprove, strongly disapprove. And the polls are running 3-day surveys, so you get a sense of the trend in the numbers over time, rather than a single snapshot that might reflect a single incident or speech that may not be a lasting effect. I’m not interested in a particular daily result, but in the trends.

For months, Bush’s approval ratings have fluctuated around a fairly narrow range, reflecting the public’s highly divided opinion of a deliberately divisive President. For over a year, more than 40% of the public have been thoroughly disgusted with Bush — that’s the “strongly disapprove” rating. Friday, it peaked at 47%, the highest I’ve seen this year. “Somewhat disapprove” tends to pivot around 15%.

There are usually 15-18% who “strongly approve.” These are hardcore Bush supporters who are not affected by what happens in the real world — he’s their guy no matter what — although his numbers were lowest (12%) when he was pushing for immigration reform; after he abandoned that effort, his numbers among the adoring came back up.

It will be interesting to see what happens over the next week or so, but I suspect Bush is heading lower. Think what Bush is facing: he’s made a big deal promising to veto the SCHIP bill, and the media are following this closely; he’ll get hammered by ads with kids who depend on SCHIP, Orrin Hatch/Grassley and angry Republican governors who want this bill, and never mind Nancy, Harry and the Democrats (see video on the right). The press will amplify the debate, and it’s a loser for him and his loyalists.

The Iraq issue also seems unlikely to help Bush. The WH propaganda machine took its best shot with General Petraeus, the most credible front man they could muster — and no one except his hard core supporters cared. Everyone else shrugged it off. Maybe that’s all the WH wanted.

But now the [possibility that we may occupy Iraq indefinitely] is sinking in, and the daily news is about continuing US casualties, out-of-control mercenaries, lost weapons, questionable military actions that kill more civilians, trials of US soldiers for unlawful killings of Iraqis, an ineffectual central government. Our highest Generals are telling Congress the Iraq quagmire has exhausted the Army and compromised our strategic readiness. No matter how optimistic the reports from General Petraeus, the American people can figure out the occupation is an unending disaster and that you can’t win over the Iraqi people if they think they’re a free fire zone.

So what allows Bush to defy political gravity? Every prediction of his total collapse has been . . . well, “premature.” It’s not about his die hard fans; nothing can move them. But if/when the “disgusted with this President and can’t wait to get rid of him” category goes over 50% — it’s now at 46-47% — the entire political dynamic in Washington could change [he said with fingers crossed]. Any guesses on whether that’s about to happen?

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