Religion and Social Trends

Bush Terrorism Approval Rating Drops Amid Controversy

Fifty-eight percent approve of Bush’s handling of terrorism

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- On Tuesday, the Bush administration agreed to allow national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify publicly before the commission investigating what the government knew before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. This is just the latest in an ongoing controversy that started with the release of former Clinton and Bush administration counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke's new book, in which he criticized the lack of concerted U.S. government action on terrorism before Sept. 11. Last week, the controversy was fueled by the highly publicized testimony of officials from the Bush and Clinton administrations (including Clarke) before the commission.

A new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll finds that George W. Bush's approval rating for handling the terrorism issue has dropped to the lowest of his presidency amid the controversy. The public generally does not believe the terrorist attacks could have been prevented, but does say that the Bush and Clinton administrations could have done more to prevent terrorism. A slight majority -- perhaps in response to the mounting pressure on Rice to testify in public -- believes the Bush administration is covering up something about its handling of intelligence information prior to the terrorist attacks. As Clarke and current Bush administration officials trade public criticism of each other, Americans are evenly divided over whom they tend to believe in the matter.

The poll, conducted March 26-28, finds Bush's approval rating for handling terrorism at 58%, the lowest since Gallup began tracking this following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The previous low was a 64% rating last September. Clearly, Bush's perceived efforts against terrorism have been a strength of his presidency, and his approval ratings on terror typically rank above all other major domestic and international issues confronting him.

Approval of George W. Bush's
Handling of Terrorism

The drop since the December reading has come among independents and Democrats only. Ninety-three percent of Republicans then and now approve of Bush's handling of terrorism. Democratic approval has slid from 42% to 26%, and among independents, the approval rating has fallen from 64% to 49%.

Approval of George W. Bush's
Handling of Terrorism

by party

Despite the drop in his ratings on terrorism, Bush's overall job approval rating is actually higher now (53%) than it has been in recent weeks, and he now enjoys a slight lead over John Kerry in presidential trial-heat matchups, after trailing in the early part of this election year. Bush's overall job approval rating now is also similar to what it was in December (55%), when his approval rating on terrorism was significantly higher (65%) than it is today.

Clarke's Charges

In his book, on several television interviews, and in his testimony last week before the Sept. 11 commission, Clarke criticized both the Clinton and Bush administrations for failing to do more to deal with the threat presented by the al Qaeda terrorist network before the Sept. 11 attacks. Twenty-six percent of Americans say they are following the news about Clarke's charges closely and 44% somewhat closely.

Bush administration officials have sought to undermine Clarke's charges with their own wave of television interviews over the past week. So far, the American public has declared the verbal sparring contest a draw -- 44% say they believe Clarke in this matter and 46% side with current Bush administration officials. Responses to this poll question are strongly partisan -- 83% of Republicans believe current Bush officials, while 76% of Democrats believe Clarke. Independents are more likely to believe Clarke (51%) than the Bush administration (36%). Those who are following the controversy very or somewhat closely are slightly more inclined to believe Clarke (51%) than current Bush administration officials (45%).

Findings are similar when Americans are asked to evaluate the specific charge that Bush did not pay enough attention to the terrorist threat before 9/11 because he was too concerned with Iraq and its leader, Saddam Hussein. Forty-six percent agree with this charge, while 49% say Bush paid the right amount of attention to the al Qaeda threat. Once again, opinions diverge greatly by partisanship -- 81% of Republicans say Bush paid the right amount of attention to al Qaeda, while 71% of Democrats say he was too concerned with Hussein.

More generally, only about one in four Americans, 27%, believe the Bush administration should have been able to prevent the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks from occurring, while 67% do not. However, the public does not necessarily give the Bush administration a free pass in this matter. Only 42% believe the Bush administration did all it could be expected to do to prevent the terrorist attacks based on the information available to it before Sept. 11, while 54% believe it could have done more. Even fewer Americans (32%) say the Clinton administration did all that could be expected to prevent terrorist attacks given the available information, while 62% disagree.

Did the Bush/Clinton Administration
Do All It Could to Prevent Terrorist Attacks Based on Information Available to It?
March 5-7, 2004

Opinions on all three of these questions seem to be influenced very little by whether or not people are following the controversy about Clarke's charges closely.

A Cover-Up?

In recent days, the focus of the controversy has shifted somewhat to Rice's not testifying in public before the Sept. 11 commission (she had testified previously in a private meeting). Even some Republicans have said the benefit of public testimony from Rice outweighs the harm, especially since commission members expected that she had nothing controversial to say. But the reluctance of the administration to allow her to testify has raised suspicions, and numerous calls for her to appear before the commission. When asked whether the Bush administration is covering up something about its handling of intelligence information concerning possible terrorist attacks before Sept. 11, 53% say it is and 41% say it is not. It is unclear what impact if any the Bush administration's reversal on Rice's testifying in public may have on these views.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,001 adults, aged 18 older, conducted March 26-28, 2004. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. 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.

7. Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

C. Terrorism

 

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

%

%

%

2004 Mar 26-28

58

39

3

2003 Dec 5-7

65

33

2

2003 Sep 8-10

64

34

2

2003 Aug 25-26

66

31

3

2003 Jan 31-Feb 2

71

26

3

2002 May 20-22 ^

83

13

4

2002 Apr 5-7 ^

83

13

4

2002 Mar 20-22 †

86

12

2

2001 Nov 2-4 †

86

12

2

^

WORDING: U.S. military action abroad to fight terrorism.

Alternate wording asked in Nov. 2-4 and Mar. 20-22 poll produced similar results; data presented are the average of two wordings: "efforts to prevent future acts of terrorism in the U.S." and "U.S. military action abroad to fight terrorism."

Next,

14-1. How closely have you been following the news about the charges made by former counter-terrorism official Richard Clarke that the U.S. government did not pay enough attention to the threat of terrorism before the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 -- very closely, somewhat closely, not too closely, or not at all?

 

Very
closely

Somewhat closely

Not too closely


Not at all

No
opinion

2004 Mar 26-28

26%

44

21

9

*

* Less than 0.5%

14-2. Who are you more likely to believe in this matter -- [ROTATED: Richard Clarke (or) current members of the Bush administration]?

 

Clarke

Bush administration

No opinion

2004 Mar 26-28

44%

46

10

Now, turning to another topic,

Q.15-16 ROTATED

15. Based on the information available to the Bush administration before the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, do you think the Bush administration did -- or did not -- do all that could be expected to prevent the terrorist attacks?

 

Yes, did

No, did not

No opinion

2004 Mar 26-28

42%

54

4

16. Based on the information available to the Clinton administration in the 1990s, do you think the Clinton administration did -- or did not -- do all that could be expected to prevent terrorist attacks?

 

Yes, did

No, did not

No opinion

2004 Mar 26-28

32%

62

6

17. Do you think the Bush administration should have been able to prevent the terrorist attacks on September 11th, or not?

 

Yes, should have

No, should not have

No opinion

2004 Mar 26-28

27%

67

6

18. Do you think the Bush administration is -- or is not -- covering up something about its handling of intelligence information concerning possible terrorist attacks before September 11, 2001?

 

Yes, is

No, is not

No opinion

2004 Mar 26-28

53%

41

6

19. Which comes closer to your view of George W. Bush's actions concerning terrorism after the terrorist attacks on September 11th -- [ROTATED: Bush did not pay enough attention to the threat against the United States from al Qaeda because he was too concerned about Saddam Hussein, (or) Bush paid the right amount of attention to the threat against the United States from al Qaeda]?

 

Did not pay
enough attention

Paid the right
amount of attention

No
opinion

2004 Mar 26-28

46%

49

5

Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/11170/Bush-Terrorism-Approval-Rating-Drops-Amid-Controversy.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030