The detailed results of the latest CBS/New York Times poll are now available, and it makes for interesting reading. I’d recommend glancing through it, and not just relying on digests of the information from either campaign or the press in general.
The results do show Bush’s approval rating increasing from the last poll, but one increase does not a trend make. Matthew Dowd, on the Bush/Cheney campaign website, naturally emphasized this fact highly. But it’s instructive to look at the data in more detail before concluding that this is a trend. Bush’s numbers are essentially flat within normal margins of error, and have been flat since September 2003, except for the brief four-point spike when Saddam Hussein was captured.
The country continues to believe that “things in this country have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track”: 38% “right direction,” versus 54% “wrong track.”
With respect to the 2004 presidential campaign, if people had to pick one issue to hear discussed during the campaign, the top issue is the economy (18%), with jobs and unemployment next (13%), and “other” at 10%. Terrorism, the war in Iraq, and nearly every other issue are in the mid to low single digits.
The country is evenly split on whether Bush is handling foreign policy well (45%/45%), but disapproves of the way Bush is handling the economy (54% disapprove vs. 38% approval).
Interestingly, the country is split on the handling of Iraq, with more voters (49%) approving than disapproving (43%). This disparity, however, is sharply down since last year at this time — the completion of the military assault and the realities of occupation and rebuilding have had a major toll.
On the other hand, if you take Iraq out of the equation, 64% approve of Bush’s handling of terrorism in general; this is slightly down since last December but is holding steady in the mid-60% range.
Something telling, however, is the question “do you think the result of the war with Iraq was worth the loss of American life and other costs of attacking Iraq or not.” 51% believe it was “not worth it,” with 42% believing it was worth it. Somewhere around 6% of Americans continue not to be sure either way.
As everyone knows, it’s the economy where Bush is weak. 47% of polled voters believe that Bush’s economic policies have decreased jobs. Only 27% believe his policies have “no effect” and 14% believe his policies have increased jobs.
46% of voters believe that the Bush tax cuts have had no effect on their taxes, while only 22% believe their taxes have gone down. Interestingly, 25% believe their taxes have gone up.
50% of voters believe that the budget deficit is a “very serious” problem, 36% believe it to be “somewhat” serious, while only a combined 11% believe it to be “not too serious or not at all serious.” Editorial comment: I guess that Reagan didn’t prove that deficits don’t matter. At least to the average voter.
Sadly, however, the country is a bit confused about how to fix the deficits. We’re split on whether 2001 tax cuts should be made permanent (39% permanent, 44% expire). And there’s strong opposition to pay more in taxes to fix it: 61% are “not willing” to pay more taxes to reduce the federal deficit.
There’s plenty more in the 34-page polling report. But what it looks like to me is that Bush is only strong on terrorism and “keeping Americans safe” and vulnerable on most other issues. Although Americans believe Bush shares their values, Kerry also scores strongly on this and is given higher approval on domestic issues across the board. And if the Republicans were thinking gay marriage was going to be a deciding factor, the poll shows that 65% of Americans believe that gay marriage should not be an issue in this election, with only 14% believing it should be a major part of the campaign. 56% of Americans continue to believe that marriage isn’t the “kind of issue” that is important enough to change the Constitution. 59% of people might favor such an amendment, but the numbers seem to indicate that this approval is matched by a hesitance to actually change the Constitution.
The Kerry campaign, if you look at the numbers, needs to hammer a basic message on the economy and keeping American strong internally, combined with some work to underscore Kerry’s basic credibility on foreign policy and terrorism (which is also fairly high, though not as high as Bush’s on the same issues). This is a strong message — stronger, hopefully, than Bush’s “one note” song on terrorism.