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Thursday, July 31, 2003

WSJ Bush Poll Numbers

Thursday's Wall Street Journal has results of a new WSJ/NBC News poll, which is good news for the administration:

"The survey showed that a solid 66% of Americans approve of Mr. Bush's handling of the war on terrorism, though approval of his foreign policy is a less robust 55%. Some 37% say that postwar events have diminished their trust in Mr. Bush 'somewhat' or 'a great deal,' but an identical proportion say their trust in the president has increased. And by a margin of 56% to 30%, Americans say Democrats are 'mostly playing politics' about the administration's rationale for war rather than offering 'legitimate criticism.'

"Even more striking is the fact that continuing casualties -- at least 110 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq since Mr. Bush declared major combat operations over on May 1 -- haven't eroded public support for the military's continued role in Iraq. Roughly seven in 10 Americans say the U.S. should have taken action to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and nearly six in 10 say U.S. troops should remain in Iraq as long as necessary, even if the reconstruction process takes five years.

"The survey suggested that public attitudes have been buoyed by the recent killings of Saddam Hussein's two sons. Sixty percent of Americans say that development will make it easier to establish a stable, democratic government in Iraq, though a majority continues to believe that capturing or killing Mr. Hussein himself is necessary to conclude the war successfully...

"Beyond steady public support for the war, the White House is benefiting from a modest increase in public assessments of economic conditions. Some 45% of Americans say the economy will improve over the next year, nearly triple the number who expect it to get worse. That is a significantly more optimistic assessment than Americans expressed in January. Confidence in the stock market continues rising in tandem with share prices on Wall Street, and Americans embrace the White House-backed push in Congress to add prescription-drug benefits to Medicare.

"Growing deficits still pose a potential economic threat, and Mr. Bush acknowledged that his tax cuts caused about 25% of this year's expected deficit of more than $450 billion. But the survey showed that, by a 60%-to-35% margin, the public considers stimulating the economy a higher priority that controlling the deficit.

"The survey isn't uniformly gloomy for Democrats. Though Mr. Bush's 56% approval rating exceeds Mr. Clinton's 47% showing from July 1995, it's below the 67% mark President George H.W. Bush received in July 1991 in advance of his losing 1992 campaign. By a 45%-to-36% plurality, Americans say they are likely to back Mr. Bush in 2004 over the Democratic candidates, a significantly narrower margin that his more than 20 percentage point edge in April after the war had begun. In prospective matchups with former Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, Mr. Bush leads by 15 percentage points or more.

"With the electorate still polarized along partisan lines, the poll shows that Democrats enter the 2004 campaign with advantages on such significant issues as handling the economy, education and health care. Even on tax policy, three tax cuts have left Mr. Bush only breaking even with his Democratic adversaries.

"Yet those Democratic advantages are smaller than the huge gap in Republicans' favor on the security issues that have moved to the forefront of American politics since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. By margins of more than 2 to 1, Americans prefer Mr. Bush and his party on both the war on terrorism and homeland security. The latter finding is especially unwelcome news for Democrats since party leaders in Congress as well as the 2004 presidential field have repeatedly accused Mr. Bush of shortchanging homeland security while promoting his drive for regime change in Iraq."

This all says to me that, despite the energy of some Democrats in attacking the president over Iraq and the economy, Bush is winning the public opinion battle (I know this may be difficult to keep in mind if you read too many blogs). Here's the 7-page PDF with full poll results, though you may need an online WSJ subscription to get at it.