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October 18, 2005

Those Polls Don't Matter

While the President's declining approval ratings continue to make headlines, D. J. Drummond at Polipundit points out that those poll numbers really don't matter:

You see, whether or not the numbers from Gallup, AP/Ipsos, Pew, and the rest are good for Dubya or poor in their portrayal of the President, they are not an apples-to-apples comparison with last year’s polls. In the first place, there is a generally smaller respondent pool of respondents, who are queried less often, and who are usually not even asked whether or not they voted in the last election, or intend to vote in the next one, which strikes me as a big mistake. Also, the questions are, to be blunt, often phrased in a manner which a courtroom lawyer might well object to as ‘leading’.

But it’s even more significant to understand how the significance of polls has changed since last summer and fall. Last year, how well people thought of George W. Bush was very important, because Bush needed re-election. At this point in his Administration, however, Bush could really not care less whether his policies are a smash hit or not, so long as he is effective. While it could be argued that since Congress tends to pay attention to polls that they would press the President to raise his numbers, it is a well-known fact that Congress generally gets approval ratings separate from the President, and in any case, while I would say that the White House is aware of public opinion, the W team is hardly about to approach the President and tell him that he has to change course, because CNN and CBS don’t agree with him.

Poll analysis is a growing field, and at the moment much more an art than a science. But in general, Bush knows that staying on course has worked for him, and in any case twiddling to wind flutters in a poll doesn’t sit well with his way of thinking. For better or worse, that means that the policies and nominees we get from the President’s office and staff are very unlikely to change. In addition to the President’s known stubborn streak, it is also a plain fact that Bush owes no markers to anyone in Congress; quite the opposite in fact. The GOP knows very well that whatever the present poll numbers, their chance for support in re-election depends on Presidential confidence in them, and more than a tepid photo op. That is, while George W. Bush has no more need of political ambition, he holds considerable political influence, and the Leadership of the GOP knows this. And since W. knows they know this, he knows he holds all the aces.

Perhaps this is why the Miers nomination and so many other recent moves by the President have been so frustrating to his conservative base. Here is a President who is free from the worries of facing re-election and can make some very bold moves for conservative causes. But he does not seem to be willing to spend the political capital he has accumulated. Perhaps he will move more boldly in the coming months and start leading as a true conservative President. Certainly that's what many Republicans are hoping for.

Posted by Tom at October 18, 2005 11:12 PM

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Well, he ought to care. If he doesn't there are many people around him that do--their political futures rise and fall with political success of the GOP (and their job prospects also).

The polls are telling Bush right now that he fumbled in the Miers nomination. the GOP base has already been badly erroded and that is very likely to tip the scales of the midterm elections for Senators such as DeWine. More importantly, by pushing a pro-Roe stealth nominee, he will depress turnout for a very long time. Many will leave the party never to return.

Our democracy tends to work regardless of the wishes of politicians. That is the genius of our Constitution. All we have to do is claim our nation for ourselves and our posterity by engaging in debate and discussion.

Posted by: Paul Deignan at October 19, 2005 12:02 AM

I think Bush's nomination of Miers is disconcerting, yet the success of the Iraq vote will prove to cause at least a small rise in the poll numbers.

I always admired the fact that the President doesn't care about poll numbers.

Posted by: Stan at October 19, 2005 04:35 AM

"But he does not seem to be willing to spend the political capital he has accumulated."

My guess: that political capital has been largely, maybe completely spent or diminished by now.

I could be wrong, but I think the concept of accruing and spending political capital derives from Neustadt, who theorized that presidential power is largely "the power to persuade." I have not read the recent attack on Neustadt by Howell (a young Harvard scholar), but Neustadt has been reigning orthodoxy for 4 decades in political science.

Apart from the explicit and implied powers in the Constitution, the President's power is that of persuasion. The current President, of course, still retains his Constitutional perogatives and he enjoys an advantage in having his party control Congress, and he enjoys the advantage of a war-time President. So Bush can still roll.

But...having spent a chunk of his capital on Medicare reform (which has seemingly come to naught), and frittered away still more with Katrina mis-steps, and having lost still more because of the spike in US deaths in Iraq, I don't think he has any or at least not much capital left to spend.

Posted by: Glenn at October 19, 2005 09:21 AM

And did you see the poll numbers from African Americans? Between 10 and TWO %! support for Bush?

At what point can we say that citizens have lost confidence in a leader? 35%? 30%?

Seems to me that when you've lost the support of nearly an entire race of people that you ought be pretty damned concerned - out of self-interest if naught else.

Posted by: Dan Trabue at October 20, 2005 09:35 AM