Politics

Americans Worry McCain Would Be Too Similar to Bush

by Jeffrey M. Jones

About half are concerned Obama would go too far in changing Bush policies

PRINCETON, NJ -- A recent USA Today/Gallup poll finds about two in three Americans concerned that John McCain would pursue policies as president that are too similar to what George W. Bush has pursued. Nearly half -- 49% -- say they are "very concerned" about this.

McCain faces a challenge in trying to convince voters to allow him to follow an unpopular president of the same party. Democratic candidate Barack Obama has attempted to link McCain to Bush by saying that electing McCain would effectively lead to a "third Bush term." Although McCain remains competitive in head-to-head matchups with Obama, the poll suggests that McCain may have more work to do to distance himself from Bush.

It is clearly a delicate balancing act for McCain, as Bush remains relatively popular with the Republican base. While only 28% of Americans approve of the job Bush is doing as president, a majority of Republicans (60%) still do. Bush's approval rating among current McCain supporters is slightly lower, at 55%.

Bush is deeply unpopular with Democrats (only 6% approve), and 9 in 10 Democrats say they are concerned that McCain's policies would be too similar to those of Bush. But among independents -- a group to which McCain has demonstrated appeal -- most are concerned about McCain-Bush similarities, including nearly half who are very concerned. Even one in five Republicans are very concerned about the similarities.

A recent CBS News poll asked registered voters what they thought McCain would do -- continue Bush's policies, change to more conservative policies, or change to less conservative policies. A plurality of 43% believe he would continue Bush's policies, but more expect some change -- either more conservative (21%) or less conservative (28%) policies. Thus, while most voters express concern about McCain being too much like Bush, most do not necessarily expect this to happen.

While most Democrats (65%) believe that McCain would generally continue Bush's policies, only 34% of independents and 20% of Republicans do. Independents are about evenly divided as to whether McCain would be more conservative or less conservative than Bush, while nearly half of Republicans think he would be less conservative.

Obama and "Change"

Obama is running as the "change" candidate, and while that would seem to be the advantageous positioning in an election to replace an unpopular incumbent, there is risk in advocating more change than perhaps Americans would be comfortable with. To the extent that McCain and the Republican Party can paint Obama as looking to make too great a departure from the status quo, they can make McCain seem like a safe alternative.

The USA Today/Gallup poll asked Americans how concerned they are that Obama would go too far in changing policies that Bush has pursued. About half say they are concerned, including 30% who are very concerned. One in three Americans -- predominantly Democrats -- are not concerned at all.

Most Republicans -- who likely will vote for McCain anyway -- are concerned about Obama making too much of a departure from Bush. Less than half of independents are, including only 22% who say they are very concerned (compared with 47% of independents who are very concerned about McCain being too similar to Bush).

Implications

At this point, Americans seem more concerned about not getting enough change than about getting too much with the next president, which works to Obama's benefit. But the campaign has barely begun and Republicans will do their best to make the case that Obama is too inexperienced and too liberal to be trusted (Obama had the highest liberal voting score of any senator in 2007, according to the National Journal's annual report).

McCain does have enough disagreements with Bush to perhaps make the argument that he will not represent a third Bush term seem credible. At the same time, on the major issues such as the economy and Iraq, McCain's and Bush's positions are essentially the same.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,625 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 15-19, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

The questions reported here are based on randomly selected half samples of the entire sample, and have a margin of sampling error of ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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