Early Bush job rating: gentleman's B-minus

President rates well on moral leadership, less trusted on Medicare or Social Security.

Americans, watching the Bush White House with mixed emotions, give the new president an overall grade of B-minus after one month in office.

A new nationwide survey asked a cross section of Americans to assign President Bush letter grades in nine areas ranging from foreign policy and defense to morals and ethics.

Republicans, delighted to have one of their own back in the Oval Office, gave Mr. Bush grades that averaged a solid B. Democrats were harder to please, granting the president only a C.

The Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll was conducted Feb. 15 to 19 and included interviews with a scientifically selected sample of 943 adults 18 and older.

The survey highlighted several of Bush's major strengths, as well as weaknesses.

Republicans, Democrats, and independents all assigned Bush his best marks for "encouraging high moral standards and values" in the White House, a result that could be related to the current furor over former President Clinton's controversial pardons.

The president scored an A-minus from Republicans on the morals question, while independents gave him a B-minus and Democrats a C-plus.

Two other areas of Bush strength include strengthening the military, where he got an overall grade of B, and improving education, where he got a B-minus.

There were soft spots in Bush's support, however. The president has his work cut out, for example, to convince the public that he is really serious about reforming Medicare, or improving Social Security. On each issue, he got only a C.

When Bush scores poorly, it is often because he has been unable to persuade skeptics that he really cares about their issues, and their problems.

Linda McCorkindale, a computer programmer and single mother in Winston-Salem, N.C., is typical of Bush critics. Bush doesn't seem like the "president of me," Ms. McCorkindale says. She expects him to do the bidding of those who "wanted him in power."

Among her concerns: "I'm afraid he's going to drain the Social Security system to build up our armed forces." She also worries that "when the Republicans take over the economy … that will cause people like me to work harder for less."

Raghavan Mayur, the president of TIPP, a unit of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, conducted the poll for the Monitor. He sees at least two factors holding down Bush's letter grades.

First, many people - because of the controversial presidential election last November - do not yet trust him. McCorkindale exemplifies that group.

Mr. Mayur says Bush needs to do "whatever it takes to win their trust and confidence." He says: "The most important thing they want to see from Bush is a person of high morals. That is the key."

Second, many people rate Bush poorly on issues because they simply disagree with the president's proposals. For example, he got only a C-plus for his effort to cut taxes, even though he has thrown his full weight into convincing Congress to pass his $1.6 trillion tax cut. Some would prefer to reduce the deficit rather than see big tax cuts.

Likewise, Bush has made education a priority. But his grades there might be higher if there were not widespread opposition to support of vouchers that would give public money to private and parochial schools.

So it's not always Bush himself, but sometimes his policies, that get the poor marks, Mayur explains.

The pattern of support for Bush during his first weeks in office is similar to the past election. The South, a Bush stronghold, gave him a B-minus. The Midwest, where Bush also won wide support, gave him a B overall. But in the Northeast and West, where Gore was strongest, Bush averages only a C-plus.

Men give Bush a better grade (B-minus) than women (C-plus), just as men supported Bush more strongly in the election.

Among various age groups, most are giving Bush a C-plus, but his support improves to B-minus with older voters, particularly those over 65 years old.

Bush gets a B-minus from white voters, but among the non-white voters in this survey, his grade was closer to C. And among income groups, all gave him a B-minus, except households making less than $30,000, who gave him an overall grade of C-plus.

Underlying all the results was the fact that millions of Americans still have not made up their minds about the new president.

On Medicare reform, 26 percent of those questioned nationwide said they were still undecided on Bush's policies.

And when asked about Bush's performance on the economy, Ryan Flener, a fourth-grade teacher in Cynthiana, Ind., explains: "It's really early to tell."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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