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Return of the gender gap

By
March 23, 2006

The gender gap is back.

Just 30 percent of women approve of President Bush’s job performance, according to the latest Scripps Howard/Ohio University survey of 1,007 adult residents of the United States. The poll found that 44 percent of men approved of him. Overall, Bush’s approval rating was 37 percent.

The gender gap is significantly larger than in previous polls. In fact, women were largely credited for Bush’s re-election in 2004 when they rallied to him in significant numbers during a time of war and national uncertainty.

But as the war in Iraq has entered its fourth year and has taken the lives of more than 2,300 U.S. troops, women have become more disenchanted with Bush.

The president also has suffered a slight erosion of support from his political base, although Republicans continue to overwhelmingly say they approve of his presidency. About 88 percent of self-described “strong Republicans” give Bush good marks, an approval rate that has held constant in recent years.

But among those who say they are “independent leaning toward the Republicans,” the approval rating has dropped to 73 percent, down 6 or 7 percentage points from the support these so-called “light Republicans” tended to give him in 2004 and 2005.

Yet the president still enjoys robust support from many important sectors of the American population, based on a detailed analysis of the latest Scripps poll.

The bedrock of his support is among committed Republicans living in the South, 92 percent of whom approve of his job performance, more than any other group found in the poll. Weakest among these strongly committed GOP voters are Republicans living in the Northeast, where 80 percent approve of him.

Generally, Bush gets his best marks among people living in the West, Midwest and South, and his worst grades among those living in the urban Northeast.

Bush also has an important religious base of support. Forty-two percent of regular churchgoers say they approve of Bush’s presidency.

Again, that number is much higher among more selected groups. Sixty percent of white men who describe themselves as spiritually “born again” _ a phrase common among evangelicals _ say they approve of Bush’s job performance. Among Midwestern evangelical white men, support rises still further, to 67 percent.

The president also enjoys increased support among well-educated, affluent Americans. A majority of men who live in households earning $100,000 a year or more say they approve of the president.

The poll is also useful in identifying groups most solidly opposed to Bush. Only 7 percent of black women said they approve of Bush’s performance, one of the worst rates for any major population group.

The president is especially unpopular among single parents. The survey interviewed 27 black single mothers, not one of whom said she approves of Bush’s job in office.

Young adults are also significantly more critical of Bush’s performance than older Americans. Only 20 percent of women under age 25 say they accept the work the president has done.

The survey is based upon 1,007 adults interviewed by telephone Feb. 19 to March 3 at the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University. The study was sponsored by a grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation.

The poll generally has a margin of error of 4 percentage points, although that margin rises considerably among subgroups within the poll.

(Contact Thomas Hargrove at HargroveT(at)shns.com)