Bush below 50 percent in 46 states
By DAVID LIGHTMAN
April 25, 2006
WASHINGTON -- President Bush's job approval rating in Connecticut plunged to a record-low 24 percent this month, one of the most dismal showings in the nation - and a number the president could find difficult to reverse anytime soon.
"I think he's in real trouble, at least until the November election," said Samuel Best, director of the University of Connecticut's Center for Survey Research and Analysis.
The center, which conducted the Hartford Courant/UConn poll from April 17 to 20, found Bush suffering from the same political maladies that affect him throughout the nation - a war in Iraq that seems endless, the lengthy cleanup from Hurricane Katrina, demands for tougher border enforcement and skyrocketing energy prices.
"Those events cast doubt on the president's ability to govern," Best said. Nationwide, pollsters saw the same trend.
"The number has slipped 6 or 7 points in the last six to eight weeks," said G. Terry Madonna, director of Pennsylvania's Keystone Poll, talking about trends in that bellwether state. "I don't think there's any doubt that Iraq is the main reason, but a lot of other things keep happening."
In Connecticut, nearly half the 503 people surveyed rated Bush's performance poor, while 27 percent called it "fair." Nationally, the latest Bush approval rating, compiled by Fox/Opinion Dynamics April 18 and 19, found 33 percent approved of the job Bush was doing and 57 percent disapproved.
The story is virtually the same from coast to coast. The president's best recent poll numbers came in Utah, a state that gave him 72 percent of its vote in 2004 and a 55 percent approval rating earlier this month. But Bush has fallen below 50 percent in 46 states and to 35 percent or below in 17 states, according to SurveyUSA, a New York-based research firm.
Iraq is the chief culprit in Bush's decline. Twenty-eight percent of Connecticut residents called Iraq the nation's most important problem, with job creation and economic growth a distant second. Overall, by more than 3-to-1, people thought the country was on the wrong track.
Other state polls had similar findings. In New Hampshire, for instance, 59 percent of those surveyed recently in the Granite State Poll disapprove of how Bush has handled Iraq, while 39 percent approve.
"People just see the war dragging on, with no end in sight," said Andrew E. Smith, poll director.
But there are other factors behind Bush's slide, as the president has been losing some support from Republicans. Bush had usually polled around 90 percent among GOP loyalists but is now in the low 70s, said Scott Rasmussen, whose New Jersey-based firm surveys people in 27 states. In California, where Bush's overall job rating hit a new low of 32 percent, the Field Research Corp. earlier this month showed him with a 59 percent approval number from Republicans.
A key reason for the GOP erosion in much of the country is not the war - which many Republicans continue to support - but the president's effort to deal with illegal immigration.
"People want tougher enforcement," Rasmussen said, and think Bush should be more vocal in support of the 700-mile fence across the U.S.-Mexican border that the House approved in December. Of the states Rasmussen surveys, majorities in 25, including Connecticut, said they favored a barrier, and in two others, Massachusetts and Vermont, pluralities approved of it.
Whether Bush's numbers foreshadow a Republican debacle in November, though, remains unclear. Traditionally, presidents in political trouble drag down members of their party in congressional races.
But the same polls that show Bush plummeting are sending mixed messages. In New Hampshire, Rep. Charles Bass, R-N.H., a Bush loyalist, retains a 51 percent approval rating. In Utah, Republican Sen. Orrin G. Hatch is expected to coast to re-election.
In other states, though, the further Bush falls, the more the potential seems to grow for Democratic triumphs. In Pennsylvania, state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. opened up a 14 percentage point lead last month over incumbent Sen. Rick Santorum, a Republican.
Connecticut has three incumbent GOP members of Congress - all of whom hosted first lady Laura Bush at a Stamford fundraiser Monday - but it is too soon to tell whether Bush could hurt their campaigns.
"The numbers create an opportunity for Democrats, if they can successfully tie New England Republicans to the White House policies," said Darrell West, professor of political science at Brown University, "but ultimately the ... fate [of each member of Congress] depends on whether he can insulate himself from the president."
Pollsters agreed Bush is unlikely to rebound much before Election Day.
"He can come back at the margins, but you just don't come back that far without some external event," said Madonna, whose Keystone Poll also puts Bush's approval number under 40 percent. Should some disaster strike, and Bush responded boldly and decisively, the poll numbers could turn quickly, he said.
That rarely happens, though. President Carter's Connecticut approval number tumbled to 22 percent in the fall of 1979, as prices soared and he tried to shake up his Cabinet. The figure rebounded after Iran seized American hostages in November, but fell again as the crisis dragged on, hitting a low of 18 percent in June and July 1980 and never again going higher than 32 percent.
Bush has a problem Carter did not have: He has been in office for 5½ years, so he is well-known to the public and opinions are unlikely to change a lot. The Iraq war is now in its fourth year, and opinion about the conflict is also hardening.
"Until the U.S. gets out of Iraq," said Smith, "it remains an open sore for the president."