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Frank Newport: President Bush's job approval ratings

Frank Newport  

Frank Newport is the editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll and vice president of the Gallup Organization in Princeton, New Jersey. He is in charge of the Gallup Poll assessment of American public opinion, which has been continuously measuring public moods and attitudes in this country since the 1930's.

CNN Moderator: Good morning, Frank Newport. Welcome back to CNN.com.

President Bush has reached his 100-day milestone. Is the American public pleased with his presidential performance so far?

Frank Newport: Our best single indicator is job approval, which for Bush is now at 62 percent. Relatively speaking, that's about average for presidents in April of their first term. It's actually slightly higher than Bush's father received in April of 1989, and higher than Clinton's April 1993 rating. Our overall assessment is that the public is generally positive about Bush, after 100 days. His ratings have neither soared upwards during this time, nor have they dropped significantly. It looks to us as if Bush is so far about what people expected.

Question from chat room: Do you feel that the positive feelings surrounding Bush are due to the nation's low expectations of him?

Frank Newport: Well, we do know that, as I mentioned, American's ratings of Bush in January are very similar to what we find now. That suggests that expectations have been fulfilled. I can't answer the high or low expectation question precisely, although we think our job approval rating is a pretty valid independent measure. In other words, if 62 percent approve, that generally speaking means on an absolute basis, six out of 10 people think he's doing well.

Question from chat room: Has there been any scientific polling of international perceptions of Bush?

Frank Newport: Our British Gallup poll surveyed residents of the UK about Bush a few weeks ago and found that perceptions were quite a bit more negative than among Americans. Interestingly, the Britons were also quite a bit more positive about Bill Clinton than Americans. We think part of it may have to do with the environment, which our polling shows is a more critical issue to Britons than to Americans at this point. We don't yet have polling from other countries around the world on perceptions of Bush.

 
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Question from chat room: Mr. Newport: How are ideological allegiances factored out of your polling data, or are they?

Frank Newport: Our polls represent the responses we would have obtained if it were possible to interview every adult American. Americans differ widely on a million different dimensions, including ideology, political persuasion, whether they're left-handed or not, and so forth. Rather then trying to control for all of those variables, pollsters assemble a sample that represents their variation across the country. So each of our samples is a pretty good mixture of all of the ideologies and attitudes that exist out there today.

CNN Moderator: Does it appear that the president has been hampered in any way by the long and questionable election process?

Frank Newport: That's an interesting "is the glass half-empty or half-full" question. We did ask a couple of direct questions about that, and we found that about half of Americans still say he either stole the election or won it on a technicality. At the same time, three-quarters say they accept Bush as the legitimate president. So, if you want to look at it negatively, you can say that about one out of four Americans still don't accept Bush as the legitimate president, and quite a few Americans believe he slipped into the presidency, rather than winning it fair and square. Still, it's unclear exactly the degree to which those sentiments, held mostly by Democrats, are affecting perceptions of the job he is doing. Traditionally, Americans in the party opposite that of the president are pretty negative regardless of how he was elected.

Question from chat room: Any indication of what people feel about the "vision thing" and the lack thereof that Bush seems to nurture?

Frank Newport: Actually, the data show that vision is a dimension on which Bush scores quite high. We gave people ten different characteristics and asked them to tell us if each one applies to Bush. Having a vision for the country's future came out number one, and in fact, it's actually increased since February. Also, as we found during the campaign, Americans still say that leadership and vision is more important to them in evaluating a president than issues. So we actually wrote a story on our website last week, saying that Bush might be doing well in part because of the "vision thing." By the way, Bush scores lowest in terms of understanding complex issues, and inspiring confidence.

Questions from chat room: The first 100 days is quite a benchmark for a new president. When's the next one?

Frank Newport: The 100 days benchmark seems to have been established way back in Franklin Roosevelt's first term in office. I'm reading a book about John Kennedy right now, and noticed that they talked about his first 100 days as well, in 1961. I don't think the second hundred days will be a benchmark, but I do think the next major point in time at which we will all sit back and look at Bush in this fashion probably will come next January. At that point, he will have completed one year in office and will also be making his very first State of the Union address.

Question from chat room: Do you have any numbers regarding the popularity or confidence in Vice President Cheney?

Frank Newport: Yes, Cheney is doing quite well, almost exactly the same as George W. Bush. That's based on two measures: job approval and favorable rating. We looked back in time and found that Cheney is doing a whole lot better than Dan Quayle in 1989. Even while Bush the elder, at that point, was getting very positive job approval and favorable ratings, Quayle was mired down well below 50 percent on both measures.

By the way, about four out of 10 Americans say Bush delegates too much. The question doesn't mention Cheney by name, but presumably, he's one of the ones Americans think about in response to that question. I guess that means that all in all, Americans have quite a bit of confidence in Cheney.

Question from chat room: Does anyone associate high gas prices with Bush and Cheney being in office?

Frank Newport: This may be the first time in history that we have a president and vice president, both of whom have worked in the energy industry. I think the question is whether that is good news, because they understand the energy situation, or, as some have argued, bad news because they may be too sympathetic to the energy companies. What we do know is that Bush gets his lowest job approval, as of a week ago, on energy. Just 43 percent approve his handling of the energy situation. We'll see how that plays out if gas prices surge up above the $2 per gallon figure this summer.

CNN Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts or interesting information to share with us today?

Frank Newport: Well, we have been intrigued by the businessman who paid $20 million to go up in space. So, we have reviewed our historical data concerning people's interest in doing that. Way back in 1955, only 9 percent said they would want to go along on a "rocket ship" to the moon. But by 1999, we were up to 27 percent who said they would like to go to the moon. Clearly then, interest is building, and this may be our next great entrepreneurial success story--sending people up in space. I have to say, though, when we asked the question, we didn't mention the $20 million price tag, and that might push interest down just a little, I guess.

By the way, one last point, in 1947, 38 percent of Americans said man would never be able to fly to the moon. So, we certainly exceeded those expectations.

CNN Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Frank Newport.

Frank Newport: Goodbye. It's good to be with you again. Hope to talk to you again soon in the future.

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