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Bush Approval Rating Declines

A CBS News/New York Times poll, conducted during and after the president's first European trip since taking office, suggests that Americans have noticed some potential problems facing the Bush presidency.

The public has developed doubts about some of President Bush's policies and abilities, and is more likely to support Democratic positions on health care, prescription drugs and the minimum wage -- the agenda of the Democratic-controlled Senate. It also puts more trust in Democratic judgment on judicial appointments than in the president's.

Mr. Bush's job approval rating has declined slightly in the past month -- now 53 percent approve of the job he is doing as president, compared to the 57 percent approval rating he received in May. Currently, 34 percent disapprove of the job Mr. Bush is doing, up from 30 percent last month.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls








Ratings on Mr. Bush's handling of foreign policy and the environment also are down, half of Americans are uneasy about his ability to deal with an international crisis, and a plurality says the leaders of other countries do not respect him. As for the issues discussed on the president's European tour, the public's views on the environment (including support for the Kyoto Treaty) are more in line with European opinion than with Mr. Bush's. However, two-thirds of Americans, like the president, support the death penalty.


Forty-four percent of Americans think leaders of foreign countries do not respect George W. Bush, while 37 percent believe they do. There are clear partisan differences when it comes to this assessment of the president - 57 percent of Republicans think Mr. Bush is respected by leaders abroad, while 61 percent of Democrats say he is not respected.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls





Most Americans still describe Mr. Bush as having strong qualities of leadership, though the number has declined significantly since the campaign. But many Americans aren't confident in his ability to manage foreign affairs. Now, 52 percent are uneasy about Mr. Bush's ability to deal with an international crisis - the highest number recorded to date.

Less than half the public, 45 percent, says Mr. Bush has the skills necessary to negotiate effectively with foreign leaders; 44 percent believe he does not. Opinion today is more negative than voters' assessments were last fall when 49 percent said Mr. Bush had the skills to negotiate and 39 percent thought he did not.


The president's approval rating on handling foreign policy is now 47 percent, down from 53 percent last month. Mr. Bush's foreign policy rating is higher, however, than his rating on either the environment or the energy situation. Forty-six percent disapprove of the job he is doing on the environment and only 39 percent approve. In this first measure of his handling the energy situation, 55 percent of Americans disapprove, while 33 percent approve.

Mr. Bush does better on his handling of the economy. Half of the public approves of his handling the economy, up slightly from 46 percent in May.

In fact, public evaluations of the state of the national economy seem to have stabilized in the past month. Now 70 percent say the economy is in good shape; 28 percent say it is in bad shape. Looking ahead, fewer now expect things to get worse, and 50 percent now think the economy will stay the same.

The country is still in a negative mood, although their attitude has improved somewhat since two months ago. Forty-two percent now say things in this country are generally going in the right direction, and 5 percent think things have seriously gotten off on the wrong track. In April, the public said that things had pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track by 58 percent to 37 percent. Public opinion on this question is closely related to overall views of the economy.


On the environment and energy, the American public is skeptical that the energy shortage is real, and majorities disagree with the Bush administration's focus on production and deregulation. In fact, most think that President Bush and Vice President Cheney's ties to the oil industry make the administration more likely to take the industry's side.

The public explicitly sees itself opposing the administration. By nearly two to one, Americans say protecting the environment is more important than producing energy, but they overwhelmingly say the president thinks the opposite.

In fact, evaluations of the president's handling of energy and the environment are clearly negative. Just 39 percent approve of the way George W. Bush is handling the environment, and even fewer, 33 percent, approve of the way he is handling the energy situation. On both issues, larger numbers disapprove.


Mr. Bush's favorable ratings are the lowest they have been since assuming office. Thirty-seven percent of Americans now have a favorable opinion of the president, while 29 percent view him unfavorably. Back in April 41 percent had a favorable opinion of him and 26 percent had an unfavorable one.

CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls








The president has lost some ground on other qualities, too. Now 49 percent say Mr. Bush can be trusted to keep his word, while 41 percent say he cannot be trusted. In April, 57 percent said they trusted Mr. Bush to keep his word and 34 percent said he couldn't be trusted.

When it comes to judgment, 45 percent of the public thinks George W. Bush has good judgment under pressure, 33 percent thinks he does not and 23 percent are unable to say. While these opinions are similar to those about President Clinton in 1995 (when 43 percent thought Mr. Clinton had good judgment under pressure), they fall far short of the high marks President Reagan received on this question during his first term. In April 1981, 71 percent of Americans thought President Reagan had good judgment under pressure.

Mr. Bush also runs slightly behind Mr. Reagan in the perception that he is working hard enough at the job. A majority of 53 percent says Mr. Bush is working hard enough at the job of being president, while 38 percent think he should be working harder. Back in 1982, 58 percent felt President Reagan was working had enough at being President and 35 percent thought Mr. Reagan should be working harder.

Six in ten Americans now say George W. Bush cares about their needs and problems at least some (though the percentage who say he cares a lot has dropped from 33 percent to 23 percent since March). Fifty-five percent say Mr. Bush cares about the needs of black people. However, only 25 percent of African-Americans think that is the case.


The president now faces a Democratic-controlled Senate, with priorities different from his, and a public more inclined to support Democratic positions than to favor Mr. Bush's.

The general Democratic advantage extends beyond the party's recent capture of Senate control. More people have a favorable view of the Democratic Party than have a favorable view of the Republicans. That is a change since March, when both parties had similar positive public images.

Americans hope that the two sides will compromise when necessary, and in fact most expect that to happen. Sixty-three percent say that Mr. Bush will compromise with Congressional Democrats, while 67 percent think the Democrats will work with President Bush. Three-quarters prefer compromising in order to get things done, while only 15 percent say each side should stick to their positions.

The Issues:

A particular problem for Mr. Bush is that the public does not believe the president is concentrating on the right issues. When asked specifically whether he has concentrated on problems that matter most to them, only 25 percent say he has, while 61 percent say he has been focusing on other problems. And nearly six in ten Americans think the policies of the Bush administration favor the rich, 27 percent feel the administration's policies treat all groups the same, 8 percent say they favor the middle class and only 2 percent say they favor poor Americans.

Education is the top priority Americans want the government to address, and energy concerns come in second. Health care, the economy, and Social Security and Medicare follow these top two issues, each mentioned by 8 percent; 6 percent named taxes, and 5 percent the environment. Today's public agenda is different from the one that Mr. Bush faced last fall, or even just a few months ago. Only 1 percent mentioned energy and the environment combined in March, and the economy was of little concern last fall.


The public is on both sides when it comes to mandatory testing of students in public schools - one of the major proposals in President Bush's education bill. On the one hand, 74 percent favor mandatory testing in public schools each year as a way to determine how well the school is doing educating students, while 23 percent oppose it.

On the other hand, the public disapproves of using the results of such tests to determine whether a school can receive federal funds. By two to one, the public opposes giving federal money o schools where students score well on tests and withholding federal money from schools where students perform poorly.

While Democrats are equally as likely as Republicans to favor mandatory testing in public schools, they are much more likely than Republicans to oppose using test results to determine federal funding for public schools, although a majority of Republicans - 53 percent - also oppose this idea.

Patients' Bill of Rights:

An overwhelming majority of Americans, 90 percent, favor a law requiring HMOs and other health care plans to provide members with more information about their health plan, make it easier to see medical specialists and allow appeals to independent reviewers when someone is denied coverage. Two-thirds favor a law guaranteeing people in HMOs and other managed care plans the right to sue their plans for denying coverage for the care they needed.

The public is willing to have these laws in place even if that means increased costs for participants in managed care plans - a main argument of supporters of the Republican version of the bill. Even if it cost more, half the public would still favor guaranteeing patients the right to sue their plans, and 68 percent would still favor requiring health care plans to provide more disclosure, make it easier to see specialists and allow appeals to independent reviewers.

The type of health care plan respondents have does not make much difference in their opinions on patients' bill of rights. Those with traditional health plans are just as likely to favor broadening patients' rights as HMO participants.

Social Security:

There may be less support now than there used to be for another program the president favors, privatizing Social Security, perhaps because of the recent poor performance of the stock market. The public is now divided over whether allowing individuals to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes independently is a good idea or not. Forty-eight percent say it is a good idea, but 46 percent say it is a bad idea. During the 2000 presidential campaign, about half of registered voters said it was a good idea.

Fifty-six percent of Americans remain dubious about their own prospects of receiving benefits from the Social Security system. Thirty percent think the Social Security system will have money for their own retirement. Younger Americans are most pessimistic about the Social Security system, and they are also more receptive to the idea of allowing individuals to invest portions of their Social Security taxes. A majority of those under age 45 think it is a good idea to allow individuals to invest Social Security taxes on their own, compared with 45 percent of baby boomers (those aged 45 to 64). Only 24 percent of seniors think it is a good idea.

One thing all age groups do agree on is that, if people chose to invest Social Security taxes on their own and lose money in the stock market, it is not the government's responibility to make up the losses. Nearly nine out of ten Americans hold this view.

Prescription Drugs:

Seventy-four percent favor the Medicare system paying the costs of prescription drugs for all Medicare beneficiaries, even if that meant an increase in premiums for Medicare patients and increased cost of the Medicare program.

Sixty-two percent want the Medicare program to offer prescription drug benefits to all, while 35 percent say the benefits should be offered only to low income recipients. Baby boomers, faced with increasing expenses for prescription drugs as they age, are even more likely to favor the Medicare program providing prescription drug benefits to all.


Democrats criticized President Bush's recent $1.35 trillion tax cut package, saying that it will take money away from strengthening programs such as Social Security and Medicare. In this poll, the public expresses similar reservations. Most Americans think the money would have been better spent on programs like Social Security and Medicare, and don't believe the tax cuts will do much to energize the economy.

By 64 percent to 28 percent, Americans disagree that using a significant portion of the budget surplus to cut taxes was the best thing to do, and think that it would have been better to spend the money on programs like Social Security and Medicare.

About a third now think the recent tax cuts will be good for the economy, a smaller number than in polls conducted before the tax cut bill was passed. Half now say the tax cut would not affect the economy either way, while 13 percent say the tax cuts will be bad.

As expected, there are differences by party. Fifty-seven percent of Republicans support the tax cuts, while 87 percent of Democrats say the money would have been better spent on social programs.

Minimum Wage:

The public favors the more generous Democratic proposal to increase the minimum wage. Fifty-three percent favor raising the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.65 an hour in the next three years - what the Democrats propose. The Republican proposal to raise the minimum wage to $6.15 an hour in the next three years gets support from 31 percent. Another 13 percent think the minimum wage should remain the same.

Judicial Nominees:

When it comes to nominations to the Supreme Court, Americans trust the Democratic-controlled Senate more than the president to make the right decisions about who should serve on the high Court. They also trusted the Senate more during the Reagan and Bush administrations.

By a margin of 51 percent to 37 percent, the public trusts the Democrats in the Senate more than President Bush to make Supreme Court nominee decisions. That is not solely because of this Congress and this president. As a general principle, two-thirds of the public say that they trust the Senate more than a president.

Less than half of all respondents, 47 percent, expect Mr. Bush'Supreme Court nominees to be about right ideologically. Thirty-one percent say his nominees will be too conservative, while 14 percent say they will be too liberal.


The preference for Democrats on judicial nominees does not extend to all things. Asked who should have more influence over the direction of the country in the next few years, the public chooses Mr. Bush over the Senate Democrats, 50 percent to 38 percent. A similar percentage says Mr. Bush WILL have more influence.

Overall opinions of Congress as a whole remain mixed - though there has been a party shift in opinion as well as in Senate control. Forty-five percent approve of the way Congress is handling its job, the same percentage as a month ago; 39 percent disapprove. However, last month, Republicans were more likely than Democrats to say they approved; now, after the defection of Sen. James Jeffords from the Republican Party, Democrats are more likely to express approval than Republicans are.

One reason that approval of Congress hardly ever rises above 50 percent (the last time that happened was in the wake of Bill Clinton's 1998 State of the Union message - the one at the start of the Monica Lewinsky saga that also catapulted his own rating upwards) is a common perception of Congress as a partisan body. The close division in both chambers has had almost no effect on this perception. In fact, 51 percent say that the close division between Republicans and Democrats actually has increased partisanship. Only 33 percent say it has reduced it.

This poll was conducted among a nationwide sample of 1,050 adults, interviewed by telephone June 14-18, 2001. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points on results based on the entire sample. Sampling error for subgroups may be higher.

For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.

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