By MICHAEL MALIK
February was not a good month for President Bush. Reminders of Hurricane Katrina, dissension by congressional Republicans and a bloody month in Iraq contributed to a new series of low poll numbers.
Bush can not reverse a slump in his approval rating with a tour around the country or a national address, said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, president of the Mellman Group.
"He needs to change reality," Mellman said. "This is not a public relations problem. This is a reality problem. Real world events are cutting strongly against him right now."
Four national polls place Bush’s job approval at 34 to 39 percent, at or near record lows for his administration. Several other polls rate him at or slightly above 40 percent, also at or near record lows for those polls.
At this point in Bush’s presidency, in the second February of his second term, his job approval ranks third lowest in the modern polling era. Only President Harry S. Truman, at 37 percent, and President Richard Nixon, at 24 percent, were lower, according to Gallup polls.
According to the most recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 47 percent of Americans approve of the way Bush is handling terrorism. That is lowest number recorded by the poll for that category. Other national polls are showing similar drops in approval numbers on terrorism.
Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll, said the deal to allow a company based in the United Arab Emirates to run six U.S. ports, which two-thirds of Americans oppose, may have had some impact on the low approval rating. The deal also provoked rebukes from several Republicans in Congress.
Several pollsters said they don’t know what effect the new video of Bush being warned about the levees breaking in New Orleans will have on his approval rating. The transcripts of the video had been released and widely reported earlier, but in politics a picture is worth a thousand words.
However, most pollsters said Vice President Dick Cheney’s hunting accident did not affect Bush’s approval ratings.
During February, Bush campaigned for new initiatives announced during his State of the Union address, but most news stories about those issues were overshadowed by the continued coverage of administration mishaps.
There is little Bush can do to stop his numbers from sliding further, several pollsters said.
G. Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin and Marshall Keystone Poll, an independent poll, recognizes the same problem.
"Baring some major national event or international event, I think it’s going to be very hard for him to get back to the approval rating hovering around 50 or 51," Madonna said.
Several pollsters said Bush could receive a significant bump in the polls if the economy improves.
Most polls put Bush’s approval rating with Republicans in the low 80s, not any cause for alarm. But where Bush is losing support is with independent voters _ only about a third support him _ and that is a cause for alarm for Republicans running for re-election in November.
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, of Lake Research Partners, said Democrats will try to nationalize the mid-term elections.
"You don’t want to send George Bush to back his team," she said.
Lake said Republicans will try to localize the elections, emphasizing their achievements at home.
Republican pollster David Winston, president of the Winston Group, said Bush needs to do a better job of combining the issues of the war on terror and the war in Iraq if he wants his numbers to improve. Democrats will try to separate the issues so they can attack him more easily, Winston said.
Madonna said he "presumes" Bush’s numbers can tumble farther because other presidents have been there.
"There are a lot of things that can occur that favor him and disfavor," Madonna said. "We just have to wait and see what happens."
Four national polls put Bush’s approval ratings below 40 percent:
_ CNN/USA Today/Gallup _ 38 percent
_ Fox News/Opinion Dynamics _ 39 percent
_ Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg _ 38 percent
_ CBS News _ 34 percent
Two other polls reported numbers above 40 percent:
_ Rasmussen _ 42 percent
_ Cook/RT Strategies _ 40 percent
All the polls are based on interviews conducted in late February and early March, and each has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. For more details about the polls, visit Real Clear Politics, which links to news and polls about politics: www.realclearpolitics.com/polls.html