Bush's approval rating shows unexpected resiliency

Despite a weak stock market and corporate scandals, president's popularity is solid.

Surprisingly, the slumping stock market and wave of corporate scandals have so far not taken a major toll on President Bush's approval ratings.

Even though the president has recently endured some of the toughest weeks of his administration – facing questions about his party's ties to corporate interests, and even about his own past business dealings – several recent polls show little or no change in his overall popularity.

Clear warning signs exist that the president's standing could be vulnerable in the future, particularly on the question of the economy, where his ratings have taken a noticeable dip. And most polls show Americans are increasingly pessimistic about the general direction of the country, an indicator analysts say often predicts the future path of other ratings, such as presidential approval.

For the most part, however, his popularity remains unusually strong, defying even what his own pollster predicted would be an inevitable drop from the high ratings in the wake of Sept. 11.

"He's pretty much hanging tough," says Raghavan Mayur, president of TIPP, a unit of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, which conducts polls for The Christian Science Monitor.

"People have economic worries – they do think these accounting problems are common across the board in corporate America," he says. But so far, the vast majority of Americans "don't see a link to the president."

According to a new Monitor/TIPP poll, the president's leadership index – which combines job approval, leadership, and favorability – essentially stayed the same from mid-June to mid-July, hovering at around 70. These findings echo recently released polls by The New York Times and The Washington Post.

The firm support is all the more striking, says Mr. Mayur, because Mr. Bush's ratings had been slipping a few points each month since January, suggesting he may have plateaued. While Bush has lost support among Democrats – something pollsters suggest was almost inevitable – he has gained strength in some surprising areas, such as among women. Women have responded particularly well to Bush's education plan, says Mayur.

Democrats argue that Bush's overall strength stems almost entirely from voters' approval of his handling of the war on terror and their strong feelings of patriotism.

"I think the president's numbers would be falling much more rapidly with such a terrible economy if it weren't for homeland security," says Democratic pollster Celinda Lake.

To be sure, it may be too early in the corporate scandal crisis for Bush's numbers to fully reflect the public mood about mounting economic and financial concerns.

Indeed, a few polls do show the fraud problems rubbing off on the president. According to a new Cook Political Report/Ipsos-Reid poll, Bush's approval ratings dropped 5 points over the past three weeks, while the percentage of Americans who disapprove of his handling of the economy went up 6 points, to 41 percent.

Likewise, a new Zogby survey released this week showed the president's approval ratings dropping 7 points in July, to 62 percent. "The real turnaround here is the economy," says pollster John Zogby. "We now see voters saying Democrats are better on the economy. And we also see that it's hurting the president."

Still, he adds, the drop in approval may be more the result of a natural law of gravity than anything else. While Democrats are increasingly less supportive of Bush, his popularity among Republicans and Independents is strikingly solid. "Voters like George W. Bush," Mr. Zogby says. "He appears to be a very affable, nice person. For the multitude out there, he's one of them."

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