A long, slow slide in President George W. Bush’s popularity ratings over the past year to a low of around 30 percent suggests there may be no quick fix for his political woes.
Six weeks after Bush began a staff shakeup aimed at reinvigorating his presidency, his popularity has only fallen further. While a Newsweek poll released this weekend showed Bush’s approval rating at 35 percent, three other surveys last week put it at between 29 and 31 percent.
Political scientist Terry Madonna of Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania said Bush has lost an average of one percentage point in popularity each month since February 2005.
“Barring some huge changes or demonstrations of success, it’s hard to imagine this president pulling a rabbit out of a hat,” Madonna said.
Bush on Monday will address the nation on immigration reform and is expected to announce measures to tighten controls along the Mexican border, possibly by dispatching National Guard troops, a move long advocated by conservatives. But one speech alone is unlikely to turn things around.
“There is no simple answer,” said Ken Mayer, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin. “There is almost nothing a president can do in the short term to pump up his poll numbers.”
In late March, with his approval ratings in the high 30s, Bush replaced his longtime chief of staff Andy Card with budget chief Joshua Bolten, the first of several senior staff changes. Some Republicans thought the shakeup came a year too late.
With congressional mid-term elections less than six months away, Republicans increasingly fear Bush’s unpopularity could drag them down and allow Democrats to regain control of one or both houses of Congress.
IRAQ WEIGHS DOWN BUSH
Unabated violence in Iraq is seen inside and outside the White House as Bush’s biggest problem. On the home front, high gasoline prices and rising health care costs have stirred anxiety and pessimism among working Americans, overshadowing good news about the broad state of the economy.
Recent White House staff changes have included narrowing the policy role of White House strategist Karl Rove, hiring Fox News anchor Tony Snow as press secretary and ousting Porter Goss as CIA director.
While the White House aides never expected these changes to dramatically cure Bush’s problems, they hoped they might at least stabilize the situation and create new momentum.
Madonna said Bush badly needed to stop the erosion, which was now eating into support from his core conservative, Republican constituency. But even if he succeeds in that, a substantial rebound may be a longshot.
Another worry within the White House is that Bush, who has two-and-a-half years left in office, is heading rapidly toward “lame duck” status in which he will have limited leverage to influence the domestic debate in Congress, especially if Democrats win control of Congress in November.
Most worrisome for Bush, his latest approval figures are among the lowest measured for any president in the past 50 years. His father, former President George H.W. Bush, saw his approval drop to similar levels before being defeated in the 1992 presidential election.
Jimmy Carter, at the height of the energy crisis and the Iran hostage drama in the late 1970s had a rating of 28 percent while Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal saw his approval drop to 23 percent. Neither recovered substantially.
The all-time low in presidency approval was Harry Truman’s 22 percent in February 1952. Truman is now seen as one of the country’s great presidents.
© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved