Americans guardedly optimistic about Bush

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George W. Bush is winning solid - but only tentative - approval from a broad cross section of Americans for his performance during the early weeks of his presidency.

A new, nationwide poll has found that by a margin of better than 2 to 1, Americans say they support the job President Bush is doing so far in the White House.

Even among Mr. Bush's harshest critics - blacks and Hispanics - there are indications that many are willing to give the president an opportunity to prove himself.

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The next couple of months could prove critical, however. More than one-third of those surveyed (35 percent) said they were taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the new president.

The Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll included interviews with 943 adults nationwide, and was conducted by telephone from Feb. 15 to 19. The poll was the first in a monthly series that will measure Americans' optimism about presidential leadership, economic conditions, and the overall national outlook.

Bush appears to have gotten off to a solid start. His overall index score of 65 was based on three measurements - job approval, leadership, and the number of people who view his presidency favorably.

But the poll also found a widespread sense of uncertainty. Among Democrats, for example, 43 percent say they are still undecided about Bush, and nearly as many independents (38 percent) feel the same way. Women (34 percent) and young people (35 percent) also are reserving judgment.

Bush, who got little support from minorities in the election, "must quickly embrace blacks and Hispanics and build their confidence in his leadership," says TIPP president Raghavan Mayur, who conducted the survey for the Monitor. "Nearly a third of them have yet to make up their minds about him."

John Lear, a Utah attorney and consultant, is one of the many voters who wants to see more before he forms an opinion about Bush. "My experience with [Bush] in Texas is that he is more of a cheerleader than a policymaker," says Mr. Lear, who spends about half his time working on air quality projects along the Mexico-Texas border.

But Lear acknowledges that the president has surrounded himself with bright people, and says it could be that Bush is "what we need" right now.

Nora Bowhay of St. Helena in California's Napa Valley is less equivocal. "I am very satisfied with what President Bush has been doing so far, and I hope he is and stays as honest and forthright as he appears to be," says Mrs. Bowhay, who works as a secretary and is married to an Episcopalian priest.

She praises Bush and his wife as strong family people. "They have two beautiful daughters, and one can see they are a family built on strong values."

The Monitor/TIPP survey detected significant differences in the attitudes of various age groups.

Support for the job Bush is doing, for example, was quite strong among Americans over the age of 65, with an index reading of 70. But the index steadily dropped among younger groups, and bottomed out at 59 among those 18 to 24 years old.

The pattern was reversed in the index measuring economic optimism. Younger Americans were substantially more positive about the US economy than older Americans. The overall reading for the economic index was 54, or slightly positive.

An overall reading of Americans' national outlook can be determined by combining six separate indexes: presidential leadership, economic outlook, quality of life, the nation's standing in the world, morals and ethics, and whether the country is moving in the right direction. The national outlook reading was 56, or modestly positive.

Americans were most enthusiastic about presidential leadership (65), the country's direction (61), and the quality of life (60). They were less enthused about America's standing in the world (55), the economic outlook (54), and particularly the country's morals and ethics (40).

Bowhay, from California, worries that since the 1960s there has been a moral slide that culminated with the Clinton presidency.

"With Clinton we had very bad moral leadership, and it is worrying that so many people just accepted what he did in office," she says.

The poll found that barely 6 percent of Americans are "very satisfied" with the nation's current moral climate, and many are looking toward Bush for improvement.

Feelings were strongest on the moral issue among Southerners, people over the age of 35, and women. But even among young people and Westerners - those least concerned about moral issues - more than half said they were dissatisfied with the current climate.

"By providing strong leadership on the moral front, Bush will be fulfilling the hopes and expectations of his supporters," says Mr. Mayur. "Among the six components of the national outlook index, the only one in the danger zone is the moral direction of the country."

Staff writer Steven Savides contributed to this report.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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