Tax cut, morality give boost to Bush's public standing

Americans, including pivotal independent voters, became significantly more upbeat in May about George W. Bush and his presidency.

A new nationwide survey found that President Bush's personal job-approval rating climbed sharply in May after slumping briefly last month.

At the same time, Mr. Bush has slightly improved his report card from the public on a wide range of issues, such as tax cuts, that he has made the cornerstone of his strategy in the White House.

The Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll, conducted May 3 to 7, interviewed 904 Americans about the president's performance. A number of factors appeared to boost his standing.

* The China incident. Bush led an effort that won the successful release of 24 American military personnel who were held on Hainan Island, China, after making an emergency landing in their EP-3E reconnaissance aircraft.

* Taxes. The White House moved closer to a $1.35 trillion tax cut deal with Congress.

* The economy. After a rocky winter in which layoffs surged, the US economy showed early signs of a turnaround, as the stock market began to climb and consumer confidence rose.

* Morality. Bush is widely seen as a moral and ethical person, and this has strengthened his image with many Americans.

The Monitor/TIPP Presidential Leadership Index, which stood at 56 for Bush in April, rose to 63 in the newest survey. A reading above 50 is considered positive, while anything below 50 is negative.

More impressive, Bush's standing during the month of May improved in every region of the United States, among every age group, among men and women, and even among Democrats.

Raghavan Mayur, the president of TIPP, a unit of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, conducted the poll for the Monitor. He says Bush's success in winning the return of the airmen from China was instrumental in garnering new public support.

Bush's emphasis on morality was also critical in building public confidence.

Lloyd Fenn and his wife, Jennifer, were among those interviewed for the Monitor/TIPP survey. "People have trust in Bush. They think he's honest, a good family man," says Mr. Fenn, a communications technician in St. David, Ariz. "People feel integrity is back in the White House."

Winning over Independents

Independents, who comprise nearly one-third of the country, were instrumental in boosting Bush's recent poll numbers. This group, which previously might have been described as "neutral" toward the president, now has become "hopeful" about Bush, Mr. Mayur says.

Yet Bush still has his work cut out for him. When Americans are asked how he is doing on nine specific issues upon which he campaigned - such as education reform and cutting taxes - Bush still wins only middling marks. His overall grade on these nine issues is C-plus.

Even on issues where Bush is strongest, such as encouraging high moral standards and strengthening the military, he gets only a B or B-minus.

Analysts say Bush's report card could improve soon, particularly if the president begins to win on a few big issues, such as taxes or his plan to reform and strengthen the military.

Chuck Andres, a physician in Brainerd, Minn., is one of those independent voters still waiting to be won over by Bush. He says that so far, Bush hasn't done much to improve the nation's education system, or to strengthen the military, even though those are supposed to be top priorities.

Two key factors

But Dr. Andres does say Bush has been "good for the economy" - "The tax cut that he promised happened at the right time." And he says the president "has done well encouraging high morals and standards." These two factors - the economy and high moral standards - are key to Bush's long-term success.

But Bryce Kunimoto, a law student in Cerritos, Calif., illustrates why some independents still resist Bush.

"I think Bush's moral agenda is important, but it's not the key to solving a lot of America's problems," says Mr. Kunimoto. On gun control, for instance, "it's a cop-out to just blame family morals, like Bush seems to do. The government needs to take action."

Staff writer Sara Steindorf assisted with this report.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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