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Poll Suggests Americans Want Bush to Stay the Course

Aired January 18, 2001 - 4:54 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: When the White House changes hands, it often is the result of a candidate -- a mandate for change. This year, though, the mood may be a bit different.

CNN's senior political analyst Bill Schneider joins us now.

Bill, are Americans looking for big changes from this new president?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bernie, if you're talking about a big change of policy, the answer is no. This is a very unusual inauguration. We have a change of presidents and a change of parties, but the public is not looking for a change of direction.

Let's compare how satisfied Americans are with the way things are going in the country now, with the way they felt when Bill Clinton was inaugurated in 1993, and the way that they felt when Bush's father was inaugurated in 1989.

When Bush Sr. took office in January, 1989, 45 percent of Americans said they were satisfied with the way things were going. People were on the line between change and continuity. They wanted some changes from the Reagan administration, but not the kind of radical change of direction they saw in Michael Dukakis. The elder president Bush captured the nation's mood when he talked about a kinder, gentler America.

When Bill Clinton took office in January, 1993, only 29 percent of Americans were happy with the way things were going. The economy was in bad shape and people wanted a big change of direction.

And now: 56 percent of Americans say they're satisfied with the way things are going. That's almost twice as high as when Clinton took office. It's even higher than when Bush Sr. took office. The public mood now is a lot more like when Bush's father came in than when Clinton came in except for one thing: we're changing parties now.

We were not changing parties in 1989; well, we may be changing parties, but people do not want any big change of policy. And that is an unusual challenge for this new president.

SHAW: So what kind of change are people looking for from Bush?

SCHNEIDER: Well, they're looking for a change of leadership. And, as usual, it's all about President Clinton.

Americans are happy with Clinton's job performance. He leaves office with a 66 percent job approval rating, which is three points higher than President Reagan's job rating at the end of his two terms. In fact, Clinton leaves office with the highest job rating of any president on record -- which is why a lot of people expected Al Gore to win by a landslide, but the vote on Election Day was virtually a tie.

Why did so many people vote for Bush? It was not because they thought the country needed a fresh start; only 41 percent felt that way on Election Day. Most Americans said the country needed to stay the course, but that sentiment was turned upside down when voters were asked about the moral climate in the country. Only 39 percent thought the country was moving in the right direction morally; most Americans felt the country's moral condition was seriously off on the wrong track.

Now, in our poll this week, solid majorities say they believe Bush will improve respect for the presidency and he'll improve the nation's moral values. What Americans want from Bush is stronger moral leadership, but not radically different policies.

SHAW: Very interesting; Bill Schneider.

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