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Bush and the Economy: Mixed Reviews, But Improving Recently

Forget Swift Boats or National Guard service: What does the American public think about that traditional No. 1 issue, the economy?

On this issue, President Bush’s record is getting mixed reviews. A Sept. 7-9 Ipsos/Associated Press survey shows Americans evenly split over Bush’s record on economic issues: 50 percent approve of his handling of the economy, while 49 percent disapprove. Other recent polls show disapproval of Bush slightly outweighing approval. In most polls, people say they are in about the same financial shape that they were four years ago, not better or worse. [IMGCAP(1)]

In the last two Fox News/Opinion Dynamics polls, taken Aug. 24-25 and Sept. 7-8, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) led Bush on the economy, about 45 percent to 40 percent.

But that lead appears to be dissipating. In a Sept. 7-9 Schulman, Ronca, Bucuvalas poll for Time, 50 percent of registered voters said they trusted Bush more on the economy, and 44 percent said they trusted Kerry. The Sept. 9-10 Princeton Survey Research Associates/Newsweek poll shows the candidates tied among registered voters on an equivalent question, 46 percent to 46 percent.

Why isn’t Kerry doing better on the economy? Some people clearly think the economic outlook is improving and are giving Bush credit. Part of it may reflect the afterglow of the Republican convention. Maybe people don’t have a good sense of what a President Kerry would do. Or perhaps they may feel that any president can do much about the economy. But one thing is clear: Given Bush’s demonstrated strength on handling terrorism, Kerry needs to do well on the economy to win this election.

Religion and the Candidates. In a July 8-18 survey by the Pew Research Center, 26 percent said they knew Kerry is a Catholic, and 38 percent said they knew Bush is a Protestant. Among Catholics, 43 percent of respondents knew that Kerry is Catholic.

In 2000, Gallup found that 64 percent knew that Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) is Jewish. In a July 1960 survey, 84 percent identified John Kennedy’s religion as Roman Catholicism, and 56 percent defined Richard Nixon as a Protestant or Quaker.

In an Aug. 10-15 Pew poll, 72 percent said a president should have strong religious beliefs; 24 percent disagreed. Those numbers are virtually unchanged from 2000.

In the same poll, majorities said that Kerry (56 percent) and, in a separate question, Bush (53 percent) mentioned their religious faith and prayer about the right amount. Twenty-four percent said Bush mentioned his religion too much, while 11 percent said he mentioned it too little. For Kerry, 10 percent said he mentioned his faith too little, and 15 percent said he talked about it too much.

In an early September Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, 43 percent said that if a candidate talks openly about his strong belief in God, they would be more likely to vote for that candidate; 12 percent said they’d be less likely, while 41 percent said it would make no difference. For Republicans, 63 percent said it would make them more receptive to a candidate, 4 percent less so and 40 percent no difference. For Democrats, the responses were 27 percent, 19 percent and 49 percent, respectively.

Terrorists and Turnout. In July, 61 percent told Fox News/Opinion Dynamics that voter turnout would be higher if there were a major terrorist attack immediately before Election Day. Twenty-one percent said it would be lower.

Congress’ Standing. In an Aug. 10-15 Harris Interactive poll, 40 percent gave the Republicans in Congress an excellent or good rating, while 54 percent gave only a fair or poor rating. Congressional Democrats fared slightly worse: 35 percent gave them a positive rating and 58 percent a negative one. Both parties’ ratings have been more or less consistent in the Harris data all year.

In an Aug. 9-11 Gallup poll, 40 percent approved of the way Congress was handling its job, while 52 percent disapproved. In January, 48 percent had approved and 45 percent had disapproved. In six other askings of the question since January, the results were much as they are today.

By contrast, in July 1994, just 27 percent approved of the job Congress was doing.

When asked in the bipartisan Battleground poll about the one issue that is most important for Congress to address, the top five responses were “safeguarding America from a terrorist threat” (23 percent), the war in Iraq (13 percent), reducing health care and prescription drug costs (12 percent), creating good paying jobs (9 percent) and keeping America prosperous (8 percent).

Scary Candidates. In early September, 45 percent of Bush voters told Fox News/Opinion Dynamics pollsters that they would feel scared by a Kerry presidency. By contrast, 40 percent of Kerry voters said they would be scared by a Bush presidency.

A Draft in Our Future? Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a Democratic firm, and Democracy Corps found that 28 percent of respondents thought the government would reinstitute the draft in the next few years. Exactly half said it would not, while 13 percent said maybe it would.

Karlyn Bowman is a resident fellow specializing in public opinion and polls at the American Enterprise Institute.

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