Low in the Polls: Are the Ethics Scandals to Blame?

The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll points to erosion in the belief that Bush is "honest and trustworthy." Debaters, what do you think is behind the decline?

The Edit Copy blog includes this possible "Moderate/Democrat weekend talking point: Doubts on personal integrity are in part a result of Karl Rove's continued presence in the White House."

At FreeRepublic.com, JustaCowgirl posts a story about an AP-Ipsos poll that also shows Bush's numbers sinking. Her assessment: "AP is becoming worried that the Plame/Wilson witch hunt might not stretch to get Karl Rove after all. Must create a poll to fan the flames." Of course, that doesn't take into account the CBS News poll (results) and the Post-ABC poll (results) that also indicate a fairly substantial drop in Bush's popularity. But optimism is not in short supply: One of the comments to the post notes, "but when he makes a comeback, it will be the biggest in history too."

The Weekly Standard's William Kristol wrote this before the Post-ABC News and CBS News polls came out, but I imagine he'd stand by his assessment that last week wasn't really so damaging to the administration. He offers this advice to Bush: "As we've said before, the recipe for starting a rally is straightforward: Get back to basics on the economy, the courts, and foreign policy. Go on the offensive in all of these areas."

Blogger Jonathan Schwarz presents a graph comparing the approval ratings of Nixon and Bush. Why Nixon and Bush? The comparison comes from the CBS News poll, explained on CBS's Public Eye blog.

But is the CBS poll reliable? The Powerline blog doubts that it is, pointing to an analysis at RealClear Politics on the way CBS weighted its responses. (Averaging the major polls, RCP comes up with an approval rating of 38.8%, higher than the 35% from the CBS poll, but slightly lower than the 39% found in the Post-ABC poll.)

Perry Eidelbus isn't buying any of it in his Eidelblog post about "the stupidity of polls." He argues that poll numbers can be maneuvered, they make false comparisons and they omit context. One such omission: "if you read this AP article, you'll see that President Bush's approval rating might be at 37%, but Congress' is at 35%."

Eidelbus also laments that "the poll is so dependent on a very foolish, easily pliable creature known as the American public. When 73% of those polled think that our current casualty rate in Iraq is unacceptable, are they familiar with military engagements throughout history," in which individual battles claimed more than 2,000 casualties? While his other points about polling deficiencies are right on target, this casualties argument is troubling because it relies on the premise that all war deaths should be looked at in terms of previous battles, in spite of the dramatic improvements in weaponry and surveillance since WWII, which is what he uses as a basis of comparison. A more compelling argument might be that it's natural for Americans to think that their countrymen dying is "unacceptable," but the key question is whether those Americans think the sacrifice has been worthwhile.

The Real Values blog just wants to know, "where were these people last year?"

By Emily Messner |  November 4, 2005; 10:42 AM ET  | Category:  Beltway Perspectives
Previous: Looking Back at the Leak | Next: Will It Get Worse for Bush?


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If low poll numbers are so dependant on such pliable creatures, what does that speak of high poll numbers?

At any rate, the variance between polls is within each polls standard deviation, so I see little reason to fret that a difference of 2-3 percentage points should invalidate either poll.

Posted by: chris | November 4, 2005 01:49 PM

There just have been too many instances where this administration has had the opportunity to level with the public or congress and utterly failed to do so. Throuthout their tenure, they have never left anyone who raised public questions about their doings go unscathed - often performing the worst sort of character assination instead of engaging in open and honest debate. The polls just reflect people beginning to tire of this and seeing through it. What these polls reflect aren't current snapshots, but the country going back and examining the entire track record of Bush and his administration. Daily here in red-state Oklahoma, I hear people who supported him a year ago say they're sick of him now, and sorry they voted for him.

It's interesting to note that if 9/11, the start of the Iraq war and the capture of Saddam are factored out, Bush's poll numbers have been in decline since day one. He has work to do to pass Nixon, but he seems up for the task.

Posted by: jmok | November 4, 2005 02:15 PM

It's pretty bleak out there for Bush and not all of it is his fault or under his control. He's certainly not getting any help with DeLay's indictment staying in the news with the endless judge recusal. Or from Fritz and his stock sale.

But fundamentally, people are doing the lunch-pail test and theirs aren't getting any more full. Despite the, "economy strong and getting stronger" talk the truth is that middle and lower-class wages have stagnated (if not declined) while everyday expenses have increased. And Bush is speaking about bird flu.

If people's pockets were lined better, they would be more forgiving towards the Bush missteps. But they're not in a very pliable mood right now. So they're receptive to bad news for Bush. And starting to wonder when the promised land that keeps talking about will come. When will we get out of Iraq? When will I start feeling better about my country? When will I know there's an ethical government running the show? When will things get better?

The news for Bush recently has been bad, but not catastrophic. Until the country rights itself, however, it won't matter a whit as people will continue to impugn Bush with their dissatisfaction in general.

Posted by: Matt | November 4, 2005 02:37 PM

What is behind the decline is a bolder national media. Finally, FINALLY, after five years some of you guys are stepping up and doing your job of reporting the truth behind this administration instead of being cowed into trying to be middle-of-the-road-each-side-is-perfectly-valid. Or "both Democrats and Republicans are equally bad".

Sometimes one side is just plain wrong and the media needs to state it unambiguously. They didn't do that very often the first four years.

Posted by: J. Crozier | November 4, 2005 03:06 PM

Bush knows he's in freefall as regards public perception on his - and his advisor's - dismal ethics, and he has no idea how to extricate himself from this difficulty. Why, he can't even start another unnecessary war - a sure poll booster in the past - because nobody trusts his reasons for the last one.

To gauge how much trouble the president knows he is in, don't look at W's face - his most prominent smirkline is permanently incised on his upper lip - look at the long-suffering wife's face. Laura Bush undoubtedly knows all - or more - than W himself about where this administration's bodies are buried and her face shows it: phony smile, glassy stare, trance-like moves. A truly frightening spectacle that the cameras capture in details.

Posted by: J. Carlmonte | November 4, 2005 03:44 PM

The poll number strike me as very real, and indicative of a trend that hasn't reached it's conclusion. I have felt for years that the cumulative effect of all of the bad practices President Bush has followed, personally and politically, will result in this being the most corrupt administration since President Grant. I thought, as with Grant, that it would take 20 years for all the truth to come out. But, as with transportation, things happen very quickly nowadays.

Posted by: B. Wetmore | November 4, 2005 04:43 PM

Polls might be interesting but in the long run they hardly matter. Depends on how you ask the question and who you ask. The media's been pounding Bush all along and every week there's some knew poll out screaching that the end is nigh for the Bush presidency. And it all just blows over and we move on to the next crisis du jour. I may not approve of everything this president does but I also know enough that there are alot of people out there gunning for him. So color me skeptical when I see poll data.

Posted by: Dominick | November 4, 2005 04:56 PM

I believe the Miers fiasco hurt Bush more than many people realize.On other issues where his trustworthiness e.g. Iraq could be tempered by "support our troops", many more people just could not believe Bush's statements about Miers' qualifications, "being the best available person", etc. They saw through this guy, perhaps for the first time.The other scandals---DeLay, Libby,Rove, etc --were seen by the average citizen as just more politics. With Miers, it was different. They have stopped believing him---almost exactly 365 days too late.
He was seen as the "daddy " figure who keep us safe, but his horrible response to Katrina changed that image as well.
He is now a three year lame duck.

Posted by: John H | November 4, 2005 05:00 PM

Bush is finally getting the ratings he has long deserved. People/media have finally heard that little voice about the Emperor not wearing any clothes. What will be interesting is what the Bushies will do to boost their boy back up the hill and turn the sows ear into a faux-silk suit.

Posted by: Darlene | November 4, 2005 05:04 PM

Imagine what Bush's poll ratings would be if we had a responsinble press??

Today, in my blog I focused on Dan Froomkin's revelation in today's Post that another vital story by Col. Larry Wilkerson is being ignored by the media.

Once again, Wilkerson's comments are being reported by the foreign media services first. Since when is an allegation on NPR that torture directives can be traced directly to the Vice-President not headline news? Are you kidding me? Is Col. Wilkerson not a credible source?

If you folks in the media would do your jobs we wouldn't be in the state we are in now.

Since there is no oversight in a 1-party Congress, how about a little bit of oversight responsibility from the press?

The Wilkerson comments can be found at my blogspace, listed below:


Posted by: scootmandubious | November 4, 2005 05:10 PM

Bush is actually in a position of strength, despite the polls. I think he flubbed it with the Miers nomination, but Alito was a grandslam. He rallied the base and basically put some spine back into the Senate Republicans. Alito will go in. The Democrats can't afford to filibuster because (1) the Republicans won't stand for it, (2) they'll just be viewed as obstructionist (which is pretty much shaping up to be the only plank in their platform these days) and (3) some of the Democrat senators are from States that have a significant Italian-American community and it could cost them votes. Rove and Libby will probably get off since what's being thrown at them is pretty flimsy anyway and DeLay will survive. Don't know, I think Bush will do well.

Posted by: Dominick | November 4, 2005 05:11 PM

Thank you Mr. RNC Talking Points.

Posted by: scootmandubious | November 4, 2005 05:16 PM

You're quite welcome!

Posted by: Dominick | November 4, 2005 05:19 PM

Keys to success:

1) Gain control of all branches
2) Marginalize the other party
3) Disallow the other party from any input
4) Claim that the only thing the other party has to offer is "obstructionist"

Posted by: Matt | November 4, 2005 05:52 PM

I think if the Democrats hadn't so eagerly embraced the Moonbat fringe of the party more Americans would of put them in office and they wouldn't be in their predicament. Though it is kind of fun to watch them over in the corner of the kitchen, pounding on their high chairs these last couple of years. Ah good times, good times...

Posted by: PeterZ | November 4, 2005 06:05 PM

Frankly it has been apparent for a long time that the Bush mis-administration would rather tell a lie even if the truth would suit better. Obviously the country is on the wrong track and no amount of alibis supplied by this partisan radical Republican congress can disguise the state of our nation any longer. Failed finances, failed war on terror, disaster in Iraq, incompetent responce to domestic disasters such as Katrina, and worst deliberately and traitorously exposing a CIA operative for political spite and vengence. What a sorry bunch. Bush and his apologist in Congress and the press can't blow enough smoke to fool the public anymore and his support is melting away. The wonder is that he still has tepid support in the mid 30's. Radical Republicans must still be in denial. If any polling organization would be gutsy and care to add a question about impeachment and removal, I would bet real money that at least 50%+ of the voting public would support impeachment now. This is from an old Golwater Republican.

Posted by: Red Ruffian | November 4, 2005 06:33 PM

The fallacy is the assumption that falling numbers for Bush and the Republicans means rising numbers for the Democrats.

The Democratic Party itself did a poll this summer that they are VERY quite about

"Democrats' own mood poll scares them

Jun. 29, 2005 at 10:48AM

A poll on the political mood in the United States conducted by the Democratic Party has alarmed the party at its own loss of popularity.
Conducted by the party-affiliated Democracy Corps, the poll indicated 43 percent of voters favored the Republican Party, while 38 percent had positive feelings about Democrats.
"Republicans weakened in this poll ... but it shows Democrats weakening more," said Stanley Greenberg, who served as President Clinton's pollster.
Greenberg told the Christian Science Monitor he attributes the slippage to voters' perceptions that Democrats have "no core set of convictions or point of view."
Fellow strategist James Carville said the war in Iraq and rising fuel prices are affecting party loyalty as well.
"The country is just in a foul mood," Carville said. He noted within the same poll, 56 percent of Americans say the country is headed in the wrong direction.
The poll was conducted June 20-26 and queried 1,078 likely voters. The margin of error was pegged at 3 point "

Posted by: Dan Kauffman | November 5, 2005 12:07 AM

I find it a source of some amusement that Bush's sycophants in the blogosphere were singing hymnals to the polls when they were in his favor.

I distinctly remember Rush Limbaugh tell all of us Bush haters to "read em' and weep" when his poll numbers were high. In fact he gushed that the American people "connect" with this guy. He described Bush in near rock star terms, lionizing him as potentially one of our greatest Presidents.

Look. I am not sold on polls either but, when you have poll after poll after poll telling you that you stink, you might want to consider changing your deodorant or taking a bath. From everything I have been seeing, hearing and reading about this President, he is in bad need of a bath.

Posted by: Jaxas | November 5, 2005 11:10 AM

Ethics scandal is only part of the story. The root cause of the current disaffection with the Bush administration runs much deeper, I think.

"Moral values" was a big claim of this administration and people are beginning to see how these values are slowly but steadily being eroded at the heart of the administration. There is the "deceit" on WMD; the cover up in high places on who leaked the clandestine identity of Valerie Plame; the total apathy and indifference shown in the aftermath of Katrina; complete disregard for human rights of Abu Graib and Guantanamo Bay prisoners; condoning and even encouraging torture by CIA in secret locations - these are but a few instances that have lead to this winter of discontent.

Yes, you are right, the ethics scandal is a big part of it, but one must see the bigger picture to get the full impact of this constant erosion of the very same "moral values" this administration promised to promote but has failed abysmally.

Posted by: Jack K. | November 6, 2005 03:58 PM

20 Amazing Facts About
Voting in the USA
by Angry Girl


Did you know....
1. 80% of all votes in America are counted by only two companies: Diebold and ES&S.



2. There is no federal agency with regulatory authority or oversight of the U.S. voting machine industry.



3. The vice-president of Diebold and the president of ES&S are brothers.



4. The chairman and CEO of Diebold is a major Bush campaign organizer and donor who wrote in 2003 that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year."



5. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel used to be chairman of ES&S. He became Senator based on votes counted by ES&S machines.



6. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, long-connected with the Bush family, was recently caught lying about his ownership of ES&S by the Senate Ethics Committee.




7. Senator Chuck Hagel was on a short list of George W. Bush's vice-presidential candidates.



8. ES&S is the largest voting machine manufacturer in the U.S. and counts almost 60% of all U.S. votes.



9. Diebold's new touch screen voting machines have no paper trail of any votes. In other words, there is no way to verify that the data coming out of the machine is the same as what was legitimately put in by voters.



10. Diebold also makes ATMs, checkout scanners, and ticket machines, all of which log each transaction and can generate a paper trail.



11. Diebold is based in Ohio.


12. Diebold employed 5 convicted felons as consultants and developers to help write the central compiler computer code that counted 50% of the votes in 30 states.



13. Jeff Dean was Senior Vice-President of Global Election Systems when it was bought by Diebold. Even though he had been convicted of 23 counts of felony theft in the first degree, Jeff Dean was retained as a consultant by Diebold and was largely responsible for programming the optical scanning software now used in most of the United States.



14. Diebold consultant Jeff Dean was convicted of planting back doors in his software and using a "high degree of sophistication" to evade detection over a period of 2 years.



15. None of the international election observers were allowed in the polls in Ohio.



16. California banned the use of Diebold machines because the security was so bad. Despite Diebold's claims that the audit logs could not be hacked, a chimpanzee was able to do it! (See the movie here: http://blackboxvoting.org/baxter/baxterVPR.mov.)



17. 30% of all U.S. votes are carried out on unverifiable touch screen voting machines with no paper trail.


18. All -- not some -- but all the voting machine errors detected and reported in Florida went in favor of Bush or Republican candidates.






19. The governor of the state of Florida, Jeb Bush, is the President's brother.



20. Serious voting anomalies in Florida -- again always favoring Bush -- have been mathematically demonstrated and experts are recommending further investigation.







Posted by: Che | November 6, 2005 04:32 PM

It is downright silly to sit here and debate the ethics of the Bush Whitehouse. They have none!

It is an historical fact that Bush got to where he is by unethical means. His unethical behavior started with his National Guard non-service, continuing with his election to Texas Governor and finally his appointment as President of the USA. When Bush senior fired Karl and Junior hired him back, he committed himself to a political strategy of wining at any cost. For them, wining at any cost means just that. Unethical behavior is not necessarily illegal.

How do you suppose that the President will now try to convince the public that he is not unethical and corrupt and incompetent? He can't. In fact, I expect him to continue on the same path to perdition that he has been on since he made a drunken pact with a traveling evangelist way back when. It is impossible for someone like Bush to think ethically.

Witness Tom DeLay as he begins his own efforts to corrupt the jury pool and the very judicial process that is trying him for corruption. Tom DeLay's recent behavior is a perfect example of their core values.

Posted by: Julio | November 7, 2005 02:17 PM

Thank you Jack K

How is it that all this information was available to the public but that no one saw or heard it? How is it that they could believe the biggest problems facing the country were gay marriage and evolution? Who failed - the media, the citizens who knew better (but who failed to fight being marginalized by the accusation of "intellectual elite"), our educational systems for not better educating its citizens, a lying fascist cabal controlling an incompetent president?

What I now find hard to accept is that if the war in Iraq had gone better, people might not have been willing to look closely at the amorality of this administation. There's a joke going around that the "liberal" media needs to be taken to task for failing to point out all the good Hitler did for Germany - improved the economy, resored status as a military power, at least for a time, etc. That is, if we were winning in Iraq and the economy was doing better people wouln't care about a rising fascist cabal running the government, the insidious attacks on checks and balances including the court stripping bills, the erosion of civil rights, the Nixonian "enemies list", the cronyism and corruption, and the exposure of the wizard behind the curtain spinning a carefully crafted image devoid of substance - the restricted audiences at presidential appearances and "You're doing a heck of a job Brownie".

Its important because if we don't realize what we seem to have narrowly escaped (and I think we're not out of the woods completely from yet), it could just happen again. It seems people have forgotten the lessons of how fascism came to power in Germany less than a century ago. Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

Posted by: patriot1957 | November 7, 2005 03:19 PM

Thanks for the nod.

I think you could in fact grow that talking point now, based on Cheney's poll numbers. Two things are possible now, at least as far as I see it. Either the administration overhauls staff en masse (Cheney should be considered in that as well), or the competency of the administration has to sky rocket.

Though it is counter-intuitive, competency and integrity are intertwined in the perception of executives. A competent leader will be trusted. A trusted leader will profit when competent.

The Cath-22 for George W. Bush, and he merits sympathy for this, is that some of his most competent advisors are some that are the most embroiled in integrity questions.

Posted by: Chris (Edit Copy's copy editor) | November 10, 2005 11:39 AM

I have a folo on my blog:


In the folo I spell Catch-22 right!!!1


Posted by: Chris (Edit Copy) | November 10, 2005 12:08 PM

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