WASHINGTON — Politicians will always say they don't pay any attention to polls. Then we have Bill Clinton, who lived by the polls. And now there's President Bush, who is exuberant over a Washington Post-ABC poll that gives him a high public approval rating that he knows will be of great value to him in pushing his programs through Congress.
Energy, defense, patients' rights, a drug benefit added to Medicare, a faith-based initiative - Congress will be putting Bush proposals on these and other subjects into final shape when it and the president return from August vacation.
And the poll showing Bush with a 63 percent personal favorability rating and a 59 percent job-approval score indicates the president now possesses just the kind of political climate he needs if he is to prevail in the upcoming struggle with the Democrats in Congress. A political truth: Congressional opponents find it difficult to say "no" to a president to whom the public, clearly, is saying "yes."
Why has just one major poll been able to turn Mr. Bush's legislative outlook in a more promising direction? I'm not sure - but it has. Just a couple of months ago, Bush's approval and popularity rating was down in the polls, near 50 percent. And everyone - the politicians, the TV talking heads, the columnists - was commenting on what a "loser" Bush seemed to be in the eyes of so many Americans.
But now - suddenly - Bush is "up" with the voters once again. And it couldn't have come at a better time for this young president.
What has warmed the public to the president? It's his personal qualities, not his programs. It is interesting to note here that a Post-ABC poll at this same early point in Bill Clinton's presidency found Mr. Clinton's negative approval rating outweighing his positive score, 51 percent to 45 percent. Clinton was rated poorly on qualities in which Bush receives the highest marks - being honest and trustworthy and upholding high moral and ethical standards.
But what has so suddenly renewed this public support for Bush? (He had similar high poll ratings when he first took over the presidency.) I can only speculate on this, because the other findings of this poll don't help me here: Only half of those interviewed believe Bush is succeeding in his goal of bringing "needed change to Washington," and more people than not say his priorities are wrong.
My guess is that Clinton's recent moves to once again play a prominent public role - and all the stories about his planned emergence - have reminded the public of how refreshing it is to have a man of good character in the White House. Yes, I think it is very possible that Clinton's move toward the spotlight has brought back voter appreciation for Bush.
There may be other things that are helping Bush. To be sure, only 3 out of 8 of those polled thought that the tax cut would be good for the economy - and 52 percent said they believe the cut wouldn't leave enough money for Social Security.
But I suspect that the tax rebate checks have helped Americans look more favorably at Bush - even as we hear that so many people are sneering about how puny the amounts are. Many people probably are coming to realize that these checks are just the beginning of a reduced tax for them that will go on and on.
I think, too, that Bush has scored of late with the American people in his first ventures into foreign diplomacy. They would have had to see, on TV, how well he hit it off personally with the foreign leaders he met with - particularly that close relationship that Bush apparently struck up with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Then the way Bush has participated in the process of getting his programs through Congress - persistently but politely, and with a willingness to find an answer even if it means a difficult compromise on his part - may well have pulled Americans toward this president.
I think Americans find George W. likable and, in contrast to the previous president, most refreshing. As long as this perception lasts, Bush will be able to bounce back in the polls.
Oh, yes, I should add that there is no indication that Bush's stem-cell decision, made since the Washington Post-ABC poll, has affected his overall standing with the public. Most Americans, it seems, are still wrestling with the complexities of both the subject matter and Bush's compromise.