The latest Gallup Poll shows President Bush's approval rating has fallen below 60 percent (to 58 percent) for the first time since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America. The poll is as unrealistic as the one that showed 90 percent of the public approved of his performance after that fateful day.
Polling has become a type of meat thermometer. The pollster, like the thermometer, is more tuned to the process than to the result. At least the meat thermometer is more likely to be accurate than the pollster, which measures opinion not on the level of the respondent's knowledge or expertise but feelings and impressions: 1,002 adults, aged 18 or over, were surveyed, but the possibility of ignorance (in addition to error) is contained in two statements buried within the poll. "In addition to sampling error, " begins the disclaimer, "question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls. "
The first question in the Gallup survey asks, "Based on what you have heard or read, please say whether you favor or oppose each of the following economic proposals. "
Heard or read? Heard from whom and read in what? Do we know where the respondents are getting their information? If it is from the broadcast networks, or newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post, the likelihood is they will reflect the bias against Bush's domestic and foreign policies contained in those media.
What qualifies those surveyed to have an opinion on Bush's economic or foreign policies? Is it anything more than subjective conclusions? The poll doesn't say. Indeed, it cannot say.
Amazingly, the poll reveals that while Gallup's measure of the president's approval has declined, most people support the very economic and foreign policies he is pursuing. An earlier Gallup Poll, conducted Jan. 3-5, just before either party announced its economic "stimulus " proposal, found that 86 percent of those surveyed want to expand tax credits for families with children and nearly as many (80 percent) support reducing additional taxes married couples must pay when both spouses work. Sixty-five percent want the tax cuts approved in 2001 to take effect immediately and not over several years, which is precisely what the president has asked from Congress.
When it comes to his handling of Iraq, the Gallup Poll shows two seemingly antithetical results. The poll says 42 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Bush is handling foreign affairs, the highest disapproval he has received on this issue. But the poll also shows a majority (51 percent) believe that Iraq poses a greater threat to the United States than North Korea, which is what the president has said. Why this double-mindedness? Possibly it is the confusion produced in many minds between reality and the media's perception of reality.
Most Americans pay little attention to economics, except their own. That's why, in a recent Associated Press story, a woman was quoted as saying she is concerned about the federal deficit. She said she and her husband had recently gotten out of debt, and she thought the country should follow their example. This was a wire story about people who don't want a tax cut. One might as well accept financial advice from a palm reader as to interview someone with no knowledge about the historical effects of tax cuts on the economy.
My sense is that President Bush will not be swayed by these polls, any more than he was swayed by the ones that put him at 90 percent approval. At the time, he indicated that polls were fickle, and he was simply going to do what he believed best for the country.
He should, and will, continue on that course. With a Republican (though not conservative) majority in Congress, he can get more done than when Democratic obstructionists often prevailed. The proof of whether his policies work will be determined not by subjective opinions, as measured by polls, but by objective truth as measured by results.
We elect a president to lead us, not follow our opinions. This president has more than enough convictions to lead the country toward what works and not follow meaningless polls that were the Holy Grail to his predecessor.