Sunday, May 30, 2004

Bush's base holds - but will it be enough? 

There's at least one poll that George Bush can take heart from:

"The Gallup Poll reported last week that 89 percent of Republicans give Mr. Bush high job-performance marks — four points higher than President Reagan had five months before his re-election in 1984."
In another poll quoted in the story, 78% of those intending to vote for Bush "strongly" support him (an increase of 5% since early April), and 21% "somewhat" support him. Only 59% of those intending to vote for John Kerry "strongly" support him (an increase of 7% from April) and 40% "somewhat" support him.

Overall, contradictory signals:

"Since 1972, incumbent presidents with an intraparty approval rating of at least 85 percent have managed to hold off the furniture movers for another four years. However, beginning with Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, no president has won re-election with an overall approval rating of less than 50 percent this late in a presidential election."
The fact that Bush's base seems quite energised is good news; he obviously needs all those people to turn up on election day and motivate others around them to do likewise. But it might not be enough should the independents and swinging voters decide to strongly support Kerry.

Will the disengagement from Iraq, which is inevitable after June 30, if not in substance then at least symbolically, turn the voters' attention back to domestic arena, where the economic news is quite positive? The problem for Bush is that negativity is contagious - the bad perceptions of Bush's handling of Iraq might quite easily colour the perceptions of other aspects of his presidency, to the extent where the people will not even want to listen to and accept the good news elsewhere.

We can only hope that over the next few months the attention and focus shift back on Kerry. In the end though the challengers don't win elections, the incumbents lose them. The problem for Bush is that he didn't have a great starting base to come back to, and his moments of greatness, and thus popularity, were a function of events beyond his control (that's not to say that he didn't make the best of what was given to him when it was given to him). The challenge will be to somehow recreate that "high" at a time when the train of events has left the roller-coaster and is now moving on a straight track.


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