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Friday, September 26, 2003
Presidential Polls an Re-election

By Steven Taylor @ 4:15 pm

Time to put President Bush’s poll numbers in historial perspective. His current Gallup poll numbers (from 9/19-21/03) put him at 50%, his lowest rating in the poll since he came to office.

Here are the Presidential Approval numbers for the past several Presidents at the same point in their time in office as President Bush. (All are Gallup Poll numbersthe historical data an be found at the Roper Centers website).

Clinton: 9/11-17/95, 44%; 9/22-24/95, 48%
Bush (G.H.W.): 9/5-8/91, 70%
Reagan: 9/4-12/83, 47%
Carter: 9/7-10/79, 30%
Nixon: 8/27-30/71, 49%
Johnson: 9/14-19/67, 38%
Eisenhower: 9/15-20/55, 71%
Truman, 9/12-17/47, 55%

Of most interest would be Clinton, Reagan, Nixon and Eisenhower, as they were all full two-termers.

Certainly this shows us that poll numbers a year and about two months before the general elections isnt a very good predictor of electoral success (look at Forty-Ones numbers, for example). It also shows us that Bushs current numbers are not historically out of line with Presidents who have managed to win second terms.

Mostly they show that the analysis that Bushs numbers are in free fall (as Talking Points Memo termed it (and was noted by WaPo and the Dead Tree version of WSJ (and responded to by TPM here) are engaged in incorrect analysis, insofar as Bushs numbers have been high due to a compounding of the rally around the flag effect and have remained high for an unusually long period of time, so what we are seeing right now is the post-911 boost and the Iraq War boost fading, and the numbers have settled back to what would be “normal” in historical terms. As such, characterization of Bushs approval rating being in “free fall” are wishful thinking on the part of Democrats. Although, there is no denying that they are down in terms of his own numbers (although he seems to have bottomed out have had an uptick in the latest Zogby poll).

Filed under: 2004 Campaign
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  1. Trying to read anything about polling numbers, either good or bad, is pretty foolish at this point in the reelection cycle. For instance, the big prize of California will be heavily determined by who wins (or is not recalled) for govenor. Won’t know that for a little over a week….Unexpected revelations in the next year, economic news either way, potential cabinet post leaving rumors coming to pass or not, whether Cheney’s Haliburton issues grow or fade, etc. We’re just way too early.

    Having said that, the big events to watch in the next year are CA recall, State of the Union surprises if any, South Carolina primary, how much handover in Iraq has taken place, and the 2005 budget estimates & economic forecast.

    Comment by Eric — Friday, September 26, 2003 @ 5:10 pm

  2. You really need the second derivative to put this in the correct perspective. The “point in time” that you’re pulling out here doesn’t show where the momentum is. If it’s going up, as it was in Clinton’s point in time, then it’s a good sign. If it’s dropping like a stone in a vacuum, as it is in GW’s point in time, then it’s really a very bad sign.

    Context, context, context.

    But it’s fun to see y’all on the right trying to keep up the morale.

    Comment by JohnC — Friday, September 26, 2003 @ 5:39 pm

  3. Nixon didn’t finish out the second term, IIRC. Something about a hotel?

    Comment by James Joyner — Friday, September 26, 2003 @ 7:16 pm

  4. James:

    Good point-I was thinking in terms of how they started their tenure in the WH (as Truman and LBJ didn’t have “real” first terms). So, my point holds, but I should have described it differently.


    Actually, my main point was that it is the Democrats who are trying to extrapolate from current numbers-which is problematic. My secondary point was that while is it true that the current trend has been downward, it has to be interpreted in the context of a recent war-it is unrealistic to assume that his numbers who stay in the 70s-so a movement to more “normal” numbers hardly constitutes a “free fall". Further, my expectation, analytically, is that his numbers are likely to go up some before this is all said and done. Certainly if the economy does grow by 4 or more percent the next two quarters, as has been predicted, then his numbers will rise.

    And, please don’t be a JadeGold and assume everything I post is simply partisan politics ;)


    Comment by Steven — Friday, September 26, 2003 @ 7:40 pm

  5. If I remember correctly, George Will has noted that *no* president has lost re-election with an approval rating 48% or above.

    Comment by Eric Lindholm — Friday, September 26, 2003 @ 8:31 pm

  6. Well, extrapolating is all part of the game. Given the graph of GW’s approval rating over his tenure…

    We’ll see. Even with a 4% GDP, there’s not a lot of economists who think he’s going to add jobs - just keep from losing them. So, that may be great for my portfolio, but it won’t do much for consumer confidence.

    I think that it’s going to be a very tough fight, and part of GW’s problem is likely going to be all the chickens he’s been fighting off with secrecy and running a tight ship are going to come home to roost this year. Without an approval rating north of 50%, he’s really vulnerable to a lot of infighting, which the absence of over the past 3 years really insulated him from a lot of crap.

    And if the Plame affair becomes an investigation, that’s going to pry open a lot of cracks and I think they’ll just start to crumble.

    But that’s just my partisan politics :)

    I meant to ask you, though. What do you think about the whole Diebold voting machines affair. I haven’t seen much about this in the right leaning blogs and was wondering what your take on this is. To me, it’s not really a partisan issue… Everyone should be terrified by it…

    Comment by JohnC — Saturday, September 27, 2003 @ 9:33 am

  7. I had missed the Diebold machine story, but just looked it up. It does underscore some of the serious pitfalls in electronic voting. It also shows part what I meant about problems in trying to say that getting rid of punch cards solves all problems. I still think that optical scan ballots are the best way to go and that the move to touch-screens is simply an over-infatuation with technology. Once I read more I may comment on it.

    In regards to the poll numbers, briefly: I would agree that if Bush’s numbers stay under 50% he will have trouble. I think that the likelihood, however, is that they will soon be above 50%, although it is highly unlikley that they will go back anywhere near where they were.

    Comment by Steven — Saturday, September 27, 2003 @ 9:39 am

  8. Frankly, Steven deliberately misrepresented what Josh Marshall said regarding Dubya’s freefalling numbers. John C. accurately pointed out Steven’s bit of hackery.

    The plain fact is Dubya has lost an enormous amount of approval in a relatively short period of time. And for Steven to claim-without any support whatsoever-that Dubya will somehow magically reverse this negative momentum is baffling. It ain’t gonna happen on the economic front. And there doesn’t appear to be any good news of the invasion for daddy front.

    An interesting side note and one ignored by Steven as well as his predecessor at Troy State: the number of Americans living at or below the povert line has increased dramatically under Dubya. We now have more Americans living in poverty than the total number of people comprising the population of Iraq.

    Comment by JadeGold — Saturday, September 27, 2003 @ 4:16 pm

  9. Even dead cats bounce, JG. Given the record before 9/11, it’s not unreasonable to assume that he would stabilize around 50. If you’re optimistic, that is :)

    Steven, you might want to check out this and the other various things like Salon and of course

    It’s more than just the inability to be checked, but the very real lack of any safeguards that prevent even the janitor from changing the results with no trace.

    It’s terrifying to think this stuff is getting through.

    Comment by JohnC — Saturday, September 27, 2003 @ 6:07 pm

  10. Paul,

    I shall give it a look.


    Comment by Steven — Saturday, September 27, 2003 @ 7:54 pm

  11. A quote from Twain comes to mind, if I recall correctly:

    There are lies,
    damn lies,
    and statistics.

    Seems an appropriate warning to both sides, where such a fickle thing as polls indicating what people will do next November.

    Comment by Daniel — Wednesday, October 15, 2003 @ 11:07 pm

  12. JohnC and JadeGold,

    I may have only minored in Economics, but I distinctly remember the idea that it is foolishness to blame a current President for the economic stance during his/her first three years in office. When I was in school no Economics professor - no matter how leftward leaning they were - was bold enough to claim that the booming economy in 1993 and resultant job creation was the result of Bill Clinton’s first 3 yrs in office.

    Best Regards,

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