Little evidence of change in public sentiment about Cheney
GALLUP NEWS SERVICE
PRINCETON, NJ -- Despite the fairly consistent "buzz" in recent weeks about the possibility of President George W. Bush dumping Dick Cheney from the Republican presidential ticket, a review of recent polling evidence suggests that there is little support for such a change based on public opinion. A majority of Americans, including 7 in 10 Republicans, want Cheney to remain on the ticket, his favorable ratings are no lower now than they were earlier this year, and Cheney is actually less of a polarizing figure than is his boss, George W. Bush.
The speculation about replacing Cheney was reified Thursday with The New York Times front-page article titled: "Hear the Rumor on Cheney? Capital Buzzes, Denials Aside." Even before that, Cheney was forced to react to the rumors, repeating in an interview with C-SPAN that Bush has been "very clear he doesn't want to break up the team."
The speculation persists partly because Cheney has become somewhat more controversial in recent weeks -- for several reasons. His highly visible public justifications for the Iraq war -- both before and after it began -- have been used by critics who have seized on the recent 9/11 Commission findings that there was no strong pre-existing evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and/or a direct connection with al Qaeda. Cheney has also been more visible with his direct criticisms of his Democratic opponents. And Cheney received a good deal of publicity after he used profanity during an exchange with Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, on the Senate floor -- for which Cheney did not apologize later.
Additionally, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry's choice of North Carolina Sen. John Edwards as his vice presidential running mate has highlighted the contrast between the relatively youthful and charismatic Edwards against the older and certainly less flashy Cheney.
There have been some media reports that public opinion on Cheney may have been turning more negative as all of these events have unfolded, but there is no evidence in recent Gallup data of any more negative change in sentiment toward the vice president. Here is a review of recent Gallup Poll data on this topic:
Americans are now more likely to believe that Cheney should remain on the ticket than they were last year. Additionally, the support level for keeping Cheney is significantly higher than was the comparable support level for Bush's father retaining Vice President Dan Quayle back in 1992. In short, there is little evidence of an increase in a "dump Cheney" sentiment from the American public's perspective. If anything, the trends are in the opposite direction.
Gallup has asked Americans three times over the last year if George W. Bush should keep Cheney as his running mate, or if Bush should choose someone new.
Americans have become slightly more likely to believe that Cheney should be kept than they were either last October or last July. Fifty-nine percent of all Americans now say that Cheney should remain on the ticket -- slightly higher than the 51% and 53% who felt that way in these two previous polls.
Interestingly, the slight increase in support for retaining Cheney on the GOP ticket has occurred because of a change in attitudes among independents and Democrats, not Republicans. There has been, in fact, little change over the last year in the feelings of Republicans about the issue of Cheney's remaining on the ticket.
Among independents, support for retaining Cheney was 46% last July and is 50% this July. And among Democrats, support for retaining Cheney was 45% last July and is 53% now. Thus a majority of all three of the major political groups want Cheney to remain on the ticket -- although it is likely that Democrats may want Cheney to remain because they believe he weakens Bush's chances, while Republicans believe he strengthens them.
The current sentiment also stands in fairly stark comparison to the situation in July 1992, when only 37% of Americans felt that George H.W. Bush should retain Quayle.
There is no evidence from Gallup polling that Cheney is viewed more negatively now than he was earlier this year. Cheney's favorable rating is now at 46%, with a 42% unfavorable rating. These ratings are almost identical to what Gallup measured in February, before the recent controversies in which Cheney has been so publicly involved.
To be sure, Cheney's ratings are now lower than they were in polling conducted in 2002 and 2003, when the White House in general was doing well in the polls. But there are few signs that his standing among the public has deteriorated further in recent weeks or months.
Cheney has slightly lower favorable ratings than his boss, but he also has slightly lower unfavorable ratings than Bush. This is apparently attributable to the fact that 12% of Americans still say they either don't know enough about Cheney to rate him or have no opinion, compared with only 2% who don't have an opinion about Bush.
Cheney a Polarizing Figure?
There is little surprise in the finding that Cheney is a polarizing figure. He has an 81% favorable and 12% unfavorable rating among Republicans, and a 19% favorable and 68% unfavorable rating among Democrats.
But the perception that Cheney may be a "drag" on the ticket is not borne out by a comparison of his ratings with those of his boss, who is actually more polarizing than Cheney. Bush has a 92% favorable rating among Republicans and a 79% unfavorable rating among Democrats.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,005 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted July 8-11, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error 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.