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January 23, 2007

The Bush Presidency

This New York Times' graph offer a telling look at the failure of Bush's presidency:

Bush has had precisely two serious and sustained bumps. One came after a horrifying attack on the country, the second after he launched a horrifying attack on Iraq. His presidency, then, has been vampiric in nature, thriving when the republic waned and the body counts mounted. He has received precisely no big boosts for domestic policy priorities or achievements. And the trend, after 9/11, is down, down, down. Not just a natural drift out of the stratosphere, but a plummet to the depths. Only three presidents in the 20th century reached Bush's lows of unpopularity. Carter and Nixon never recovered -- but they, at least, had the excuses of rampant corruption, stagflation, and the Iranian hostage crisis. Bush's unpopularity is entirely the fault of his own mismanagement. According to early reports, tonight's proposed salve will be a minor change to the marginal deductibility of employee benefits packages. That'll save him.

January 23, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

Actually I'm pretty sure Truman didn't recover ... he left office with very low approval ratings. In February 1952 he recorded the lowest approval rating of all time at 22% (though polling back then was less accurate).

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Jan 23, 2007 10:31:59 AM

Ah, you're right, I was thinking of his recovery before reelection.

Posted by: Ezra | Jan 23, 2007 10:41:53 AM

If one were to model Bush's popularity as a linear descent from his post-9/11 high (and it looks pretty linear to me), would the Iraq war bump be a significant outlier? It doesn't look like it to me < / statistics nerd >

Actually, I found the "rally around the president" mood post-9/11 to be rather odd. In general, when a leader presides over a catatsrophe, even if s/he does a good job of ameliorating the pain caused by it, the first thing that often happens is that people move to sack that leader (arguments can be made about the rationality of that, but it's what often happens): if a team looses a big game, people wanna sack the coach and/or manager, etc. Did people rally around Carter during the hostage crisis? Did the media push such rallying as they did with Bush?

FWIW, it's actually a rather dangerous precident to give a leader too much support simply because of a crisis: the tendancy is then that unscrupulous leaders will either milk a crisis for all it's worth (I'd give an example, but I don't want to violate Godwin's law) or even create a crisis (ancient Rome on the path to Imperium, anyone?). Indeed, there was a lot of talk about Clinton "wagging the dog", but how come nobody brings up the even more obvious parallels with Bush & CO?

Actually, even more to the point is "Canadian Bacon" (why do people act as if Michael Moore is the left's Ann Coulter? because he's declasse? he's been fundamentally right about some very important things: with a record like that, if our punditocracy were a meritocracy, he'd be on every Sunday gabfest until 2025) -- unpopular president figures he needs a new Cold War, so he starts one. Hmmm ...

Posted by: DAS | Jan 23, 2007 10:47:06 AM

Re: Moore (and Gore, etc.), being right about anything is a death knell. You make the kewl kids look stupid, and thus they hate you and ridicule you.

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 | Jan 23, 2007 10:52:35 AM

the only quibble I have with this post is that, from the chart, it doesn't look like either bump was "sustained" for any real period of time. I mean, yes, in terms of the time until the level dropped to the pre-bump level, but no in terms of the time until the level dropped from the post-bump high.

Posted by: Goldberg | Jan 23, 2007 11:02:52 AM

Here's how Bush is gonna recover. Go here and click on the TV funhouse link. It's worth it. I'm not great at links--I need to take a class or something--so maybe copy and paste if you feel like chuckling.


http://www.nbc.com/Saturday_Night_Live/

Posted by: david mizner | Jan 23, 2007 11:20:30 AM

That straight line was noted by James K. Galbraith in a pretty good Salon article in 2004.

Measured by a number of different techniques (including regression analysis), Bush's monthly loss of approval appears to be a little less than 1.6 percentage points -- every month, on average. And the variation around that average (standard error) is quite small: less than one-fourth of that value. That means that in 95 percent of the cases, the decline is between 0.9 and 2.3 percent per month. Tick, tock.

It seems that Bush has done nothing to win the enduring allegiance of voters who did not already support him in 2000. After each rallying event, some give up immediately. Others take longer. But the trend is consistent: Gains accrued in crisis decay over time.

Posted by: Allen Knutson | Jan 23, 2007 12:34:41 PM

It seems that Bush has done nothing to win the enduring allegiance of voters who did not already support him in 2000. After each rallying event, some give up immediately. Others take longer. But the trend is consistent: Gains accrued in crisis decay over time.

Gee, it'll be a real coincidence if there was some sort of crisis just before the next election...

Posted by: Phoenician in a time of Romans | Jan 23, 2007 1:11:39 PM

But the trend is consistent: Gains accrued in crisis decay over time.

Putting back on my statistician hat, though: would one expect such a decay to be linear? Pardon me for sounding like a journalist who's heard the phrase exponential decay often enough to think that all decays are exponential, but wouldn't you expect an exponential decay rather than a linear one?

Posted by: DAS | Jan 23, 2007 2:03:25 PM

I would think the decay would be exponential back to the pre-bump level. Alternately, the initial portions of an exponential decay look linear. Eventually, the numbers have to level out, as, at the current rate, he has only 19 months before he reaches 0 approval.

Posted by: BillCross | Jan 23, 2007 3:04:52 PM

The september -> november 2004 bump looks pretty significant. So i'd say huge marketing campaigns can retard the slide, too.

Posted by: dan | Jan 23, 2007 3:21:25 PM

28% shows that it's not just Democrats that are unhapppy. Do you really think conservatives' reasons are the same as yours?

Posted by: Fred Jones | Jan 23, 2007 6:57:17 PM

Um, since when is his current popularity a measure of a President's success?

Honestly, just on the level of basic reason, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Posted by: Charlie (Colorado) | Jan 23, 2007 9:12:18 PM

"Um, since when is his current popularity a measure of a President's success?"

Charlie, I think what this shows is not that the president's popularity is the measure of his success, but rather the result of his lack of it. That is, the polls are only reflecting the American public's realization that this man has been a remarkably unsuccessful president.

Now if you have some evidence that the president has had many and sustained successes that the public has ignored, please let us know what those are! And also maybe tell us why the public doesn't appreciate these great successes.

The fact is, generally Americans figure out whether a presidency is working or not-- after all, they can see in their own lives if they've gotten a raise lately or not, if the neighbor boy in the Marines is being deployed for a good reason, if they have access to the governmental services they think are important, if they see that other American citizens (and yes, most Americans care what happens to other Americans) are getting the government they paid for and voted for. When Americans see that our young soldiers are being sent into a civil war without adequate armor, when they see that a major American city lies unreconstructed a year after a major disaster, when they see their tax-dollars wasted, spent not on educating children and rebuilding homes but on lining the pockets of the already rich, when they are afraid to try for a better job because there are none to be had or they'll lose their insurance and never get it again because their kid once went to the emergency room for an asthma attack... and when they see that the president just isn't paying any attention at all and spends most of his time riding his bike and taking naps... well, Americans then justifiably report to pollsters that they disapprove of his job. You don't think the American people are stupid, do you? That they can't judge for themselves?

The president's lack of popularity is a direct reflection of his lack of competence. Notice that his supporters never point to his unheralded record of successes... they just take issue with the polling data. But really, if you have evidence that he's been a great president for us, let us know!

Posted by: Anna | Jan 24, 2007 5:00:33 PM

The charts on http://www.pollkatz.homestead.com are better because they aggregate many polls, making it easier to seek what is noise and what isn't. The Iraq war bump was a real bump (as was the smaller one after the capture of Saddam Hussein) but they didn't last.

More importantly, there was an extremely shallow sustained rise during the 2004 presidential campaign; that's what an enormous political war chest will get you. It's not much, but it was just enough to get Bush over the top.

Finally, one thing I learned from looking at old polls (probably not online any more) is that Carter *did* get a bump from the Iranian hostage crisis, right at the beginning. The lore today is that it ruined him, but he was already in the doghouse *before* it started, and he got a fleeting rally-round-the-president spike right after the taking of the embassy. It didn't last long, but his subsequent fall was basically back to where he had been before.

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Posted by: JUDY | Sep 26, 2007 4:25:18 AM

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