Phil is right that Bush’s approval rating hasn’t dropped dramatically this summer – it has just simply continued a gradual decline that began not long after his inauguration, reaching a level that Mickey Kaus argues is his natural “level of popularity he would have had if 9/11 had not occurred.” Indeed, Bush’s popularity has been pretty crummy since January-February 2004, when David Kay testified to the lack of WMDs, when the president’s approval rating fell below 50 percent in most polls. Since then Bush has broken 55% in only one major national poll (Gallup had him at 57% in February 2005, a couple of weeks after his inauguration). He hasn’t broken 50 in the CBS poll since November, the Zogby and the AP-Ipsos polls since December, in the Pew and Quinnipiac polls since January, in the Fox News and the ABC-Washington Post poll since March, and in the Gallup poll since May. (By comparison, during Clinton’s second term, the Gallup Poll never showed him under 53% approval; Pew, CBS, and ABC-Washington Post never had him under 55%).
But Bush hasn’t simply fallen to the level that he maintained during all of 2004; at least in many polls, he has fallen to the level of the worst political moment of his presidency: the May 2004 aftermath of Abu Ghraib and the Fallujah atrocities.
Zogby’s last two polls have Bush at 45 and 43; the only time the president has done worse was in May 2004, when he hit 42%.
The most recent Newsweek poll rates Bush at 42%, tying his lowest rating, once again in May 2004.
At 42%, the last two AP-Ipsos polls give Bush his lowest rating ever.
In Gallup’s last ten polls (since May), Bush has rated at 46% or less five times; previously, his approval rating had fallen so low only twice, once in March 2005 and once in May 2004.
The latest Pew poll has Bush at 44%; in June he was at 42%; his only comparable performances came right after the presidential debates and, yes, May 2004.
This pattern doesn’t hold for all polls; the Fox News poll had Bush at 44% just after the Democratic convention (he’s at 47% now). The ABC-Washington Post poll doesn’t show much of a decline.
On Iraq, the public remains negative, but not much more so than it has been over the past 18 months. In the latest Gallup Poll, 54% of respondents believe we made a mistake by going into Iraq; the highest ever, yes, but we saw the same numbers last summer. 56% think the war is going “moderately” or “very badly”; this number has bounced around a bit, but has remained pretty constant since last spring; it actually peaked at 64% in April 2004. Most other polls show a similar picture: downbeat, but not necessarily the most ever.
Americans do seem to have changed their view of Bush’s handling of Iraq. Newsweek, AP-Ipsos, Pew, and NBC-Wall Street Journal have respondents giving Bush his worst marks ever on Iraq. (CBS and ABC-Washington Post don’t show much change). For the first time ever, Gallup shows a majority of Americans believing Bush misled the country about WMDs. Last month, Pew found that almost two-thirds of respondents believe Bush does not have a clear plan to bring our involvement to a “successful conclusion;” ABC-Washington Post has similar numbers.
Of course, events can always change. Americans could notice the relatively strong state of the economy. Somehow, Iraq could find peace and the boys could come home. Bush’s Social Security plan could magically win over seniors. Right now, however, it is easier to imagine things only getting worse.