Chutes and Ladders
By David Chandler
few weeks ago I compared the Approval Rating results for Presidents
Reagan and Clinton. On our web site (progressivewritersbloc.com)
I have posted an approval rating
graph for each president since Franklin Roosevelt.
The usual situation is that the approval ratings
rise and fall over time as the people respond to actions of the
president and world events. They usually start on a high note, following
the election with the attendant optimism of a "honeymoon"
period. After the honeymoon disillusion sets in and there is typically
a falling off from initial support.
From there the graphs rise and fall, usually gradually,
sometimes sharply. A gradual rise means that people who formerly
disapproved of the president are being won over. A few at a time
are reconsidering and deciding to give the president their support,
or at least the benefit of the doubt. A gradually falling approval
rating indicates that those who previously supported the president
have become discouraged or disillusioned and have changed their
minds. The gradualness of the responses is normal because people
make up their minds at different rates. Sudden spikes in the graph,
on the other hand, reflect major events or incidents that cause
large numbers of people to change their minds immediately.
Both Reagan's and Clinton's approval ratings went
through periods of gradual rise and fall, and both of them had sudden
major changes in levels of support. This is to be expected. Now
let's look at the data for George W. Bush.
For all the presidents since Roosevelt, the pattern
of approval ratings for George W. Bush is unique. He started low,
because of the outrage over the 2000 elections. If you recall, his
inauguration was attended by massive demonstrations. (If you have
forgotten that bit of history or perhaps weren't aware of it in
the first place, see Fahrenheit
911.) From a lower than usual starting point his ratings
never rallied. They stagnated and even sagged slightly.
Backing up and looking at the whole picture we see
that at no time in his presidency have George W. Bush's approval
ratings undergone a period of sustained gradual rise. A gradual
rise would indicate that his actions or policies inspired confidence
sufficient to win over former skeptics. That kind of rise has never
occurred. Instead, his presidency is characterized by three singular
upward spikes and otherwise unrelenting loss of support. The spikes
are all associated with major events: the terror attacks of September
11, 2001, the invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003, and the capture
of Saddam Hussein on December 14, 2003.
In response to 911 the people of the United States
gave George W. Bush an unprecedented show of support. The 90% approval
ratings following the attack are the highest on record for any president
since approval polling began. It is an indication of the faith and
optimism of the American people that they rallied together in this
way, but the approval high was short-lived. Almost immediately the
approval ratings began a long, steep decline, at an amazingly constant
rate. Through the passage of the Patriot Act, the war in Afghanistan,
the formation of the Department of Homeland Security, the get-tough
rhetoric with Iraq, and the constant invocation of September 11
justifying every disturbing new action, support fell and continued
to fall. The American people were willing to pull together in a
crisis, but as they saw 911 being used to justify a whole array
of un-American policies, and as they started feeling less rather
than more safe, they increasingly withdrew their support from the
The war in Iraq began with a spectacular, but deadly,
made-for-TV fireworks show, followed by repeated attempts and repeated
failures to kill Saddam Hussein. The beginning of the war brought
a burst of support, as one might expect, but the numbers began falling
even before the fall of Saddam Hussein's statue. This time they
fell at an even faster rate than before. And they continued to fall,
right through the outlandish "Mission Accomplished" spectacle
and on to the present, relieved only by one last, much smaller spike,
triggered by the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003.
Is George W. Bush the most popular president in
recent history? He rode the crest of outrage over a devastating
terrorist attack to his fifteen minutes of glory. He wouldn't even
have had that surge had the networks played the up-close footage
of his listless, incoherent behavior on 911, going into the classroom
AFTER he knew the first tower had been hit and failing to take any
action even after being informed that the second tower was hit.
(This is perhaps the most intriguing footage in Fahrenheit 911!)
Again in March 2003 he capitalized on the surge
of "support our troops" sentiment as he launched a bloody
and foolish war, and he briefly rode the spectacle of capturing
and publicly humiliating the designated representative of evil incarnate,
Saddam Hussein (who
some believe had been captured in July and kept prisoner in secret
until December--see the link on our website). We may see yet
another spike before November with an exquisitely timed "capture"
of Osama bin Laden in a similar manner.
Other than those three spikes, the data shows that
George W. Bush has utterly failed over his entire term to win over
the hearts and minds of the American people and he is losing his
grip on those who have supported him up until now.
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