Bush thrives despite furor over Quayle. In recent polls, Bush's `positives' rise while the `negatives' go down
Washington — This is not what the Republicans had in mind. The negative media coverage of Sen. Dan Quayle's selection as the vice-presidential nominee has done nothing but rain on the GOP parade. Or has it? Some political analysts are now wondering if there isn't a silver lining to the political cloud hanging over the Republican ticket.
They suggest that the thunder burst has passed over the Indiana senator, now that it appears there were openings in his unit of the National Guard when he joined in 1969.
Perhaps even more important, recent polls show that the ruckus over Mr. Quayle's background has not hurt Vice-President George Bush, at least so far. Not only are Mr. Bush's poll numbers higher than those of his rival, Michael Dukakis, but his negative ratings are on the decline.
In a poll taken for the Times Mirror company last weekend, Bush's favorable rating was 65 percent, up from 52 percent in May. Bush's unfavorable ratings dropped from 40 percent in May to 30 percent. The figures for Governor Dukakis remain essentially unchanged.
All of this comes at a time when Bush and his running mate have been buried in unflattering headlines all across the country.
``That is why I think that the Bush rise in the polls is all the more astounding and impressive,'' says William C. Adams, an expert in presidential media coverage at George Washington University. ``Clearly, if it had really undermined Bush, he wouldn't have gone up in the polls so dramatically.''
Mr. Adams says other dynamics that may help Bush have emerged.
Quayle has gained some sympathy as an ``underdog'' and ``survivor.''
Quayle has benefited from a public backlash against the press.
``There is the interesting possibility that to some extent this immunizes Bush and Quayle from a future press frenzy,'' Adams says. ``It may really intensify the notion that the press are out to get the Republicans this year.''
Political science professor Herb Asher at Ohio State University agrees that the controversy may turn out to have some benefit for the GOP. ``Quayle became a household name very quickly,'' Professor Asher notes.
The other benefit Asher sees is that the National Guard issue diverted attention away from the broader question of whether Quayle is qualified to be vice-president. ``It may be the case that the test for Quayle became, could he survive the National Guard controversy? ... If he survived that, then he is therefore qualified.''
Even so, says Asher, trouble could loom ahead. ``The danger for Bush is that if Quayle were to stumble over the course of the campaign, or if there were any further revelations, it could really undermine the credibility of the Republican ticket.''
The vice-president's poll negatives have been of some concern to Bush insiders because such numbers are so hard to bring down. Pollsters say it is much harder to remove a negative impression already established than it is to build up positive images around a relative unknown like Dukakis.
Perhaps the thickest silver lining is the fact that Bush's defense of Quayle actually helped define himself to voters.
``These negatives for Bush were not factually based problems of record or character,'' says Mike Traugott, a senior project director at the Gallup polling organization. ``They really were the public's ill-formed image of him,'' Mr. Traugott says. ``Through this intensive media coverage, people have a clearer image of him and now are more willing to assign [positive] traits to him.''
Initially stunned by the early fracas over Quayle, Bush's staff is working overtime to paint a more positive picture.
The current situation for Bush ``is golden,'' says Richard Brody, a political scientist at Stanford University. What remains to be seen, he says, is the ``question of whether he can sustain that level of campaigning without beginning to sound shrill and bringing back some of the same imagery he had earlier in the campaign.''.