Views of Bush Reach New Heights of Polarization

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Intensity of opinion by party greatest ever measured

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- In the most recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 51% of Americans approve and 47% disapprove of the job George W. Bush is doing as president. While those figures reflect the division of opinion on Bush, a follow-up question measuring intensity of opinion shows just how polarized views of the president are -- 73% have a strong view of Bush's job performance, with nearly equal percentages strongly approving and disapproving. Previous Gallup polls have shown views of Bush to be the most polarized along party lines for any president, but never before have so many people of one party held such strongly positive views of a president at the same time that so many of the other party have held such strongly negative views.

The Oct. 14-16 poll shows that Bush's 51% job approval rating breaks down to 36% who strongly approve and 15% who moderately approve. On the other side, 37% strongly disapprove and 10% moderately disapprove.

The percentage of strong Bush disapprovers has been relatively consistent this year, but the percentage of strong approvers is somewhat higher now than in the spring and summer.

It is rare for so many Americans to hold strong opinions on the president, but fairly common for Bush. The 73% who currently have a strong view one way or the other on Bush's job performance is one of the highest since Gallup started asking this question. Before Bush, there were three other times Gallup measured more than 7 in 10 holding strong opinions about the president's job.

  • In March 1999, shortly after the military air campaign in Kosovo began, 71% held strong opinions of Bill Clinton, with 45% strongly approving and 26% strongly disapproving.

  • In January 1998, shortly after news of Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky broke and after his well-received State of the Union Address, 72% had a strong opinion on Clinton's job performance (51% strongly approved and 21% strongly disapproved).

  • Opinion was even more positive toward the elder George H.W. Bush at the conclusion of the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Seventy-nine percent of Americans had strong views of Bush, with 74% strongly approving. That was when he had a then-record 89% overall job approval rating.

What separates George W. Bush from these other presidents is that, on balance, strong opinions of the other presidents were mostly positive, while strong views about Bush are evenly divided between being positive and being negative. The one exception to this pattern for Bush occurred in October 2001, just weeks after the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., when 65% of Americans had strong views of him -- 60% positive and only 5% negative.

Polarized Views by Party

The current poll reveals the most polarized presidential approval between parties ever measured by Gallup. Seventy-one percent of Republicans strongly approve of Bush while 68% of Democrats strongly disapprove.

Prior to Bush, no other president had seen 60% of both parties with strong opposing views of his performance. The new poll marks the fourth time that this has been observed for Bush, and the largest gap between Republicans and Democrats to date.

Polarized Views of George W. Bush, by Party


 

Strongly
approve, Republicans

Strongly disapprove, Democrats

Gap in strong approval ratings by party

 

%

%

 

2004 Oct 14-16

71

-68

139

2004 Jul 19-21

65

-66

131

2004 May 21-23

64

-66

130

2003 Sep 19-21

63

-62

125

For only two other presidents -- Clinton and Ronald Reagan -- has there been a majority of one party that strongly approved of the president at the same time that a majority of the other party strongly disapproved.

Election Outcome

Uncertainty surrounding the 2000 presidential election outcome led to a politically divided nation, while the September 11 terrorist attacks brought the nation together again. However, the country became divided over the war in Iraq, and the 2004 presidential campaign intensified this division.

An Oct. 11-14 Gallup Poll shows how intensely Americans feel about the election. Americans were asked to describe their reactions if the election outcome were different from their stated preference. Fifty-seven percent of voters indicating they support Sen. John Kerry say they would be "very upset" if Bush is re-elected, and an additional 25% say they would be "somewhat upset". Just 16% of Kerry voters would not be upset. Similarly, 50% of Bush voters would be very upset if Kerry is elected president, and an additional 33% would be somewhat upset. Seventeen percent would not be upset.

Certainly, one of the challenges for the winner of this year's election will be to bring a divided nation together again.


Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,013 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 14-16. 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.

6. Do you [approve/disapprove] strongly or only moderately [of the job George W. Bush is doing as president]?

 

 

Strongly approve

Moderately approve

Moderately disapprove

 

Strongly disapprove

 

No
opinion

 

%

%

%

%

%

2004 Oct 14-16

36

15

10

37

2

 

 

 

 

 

 

2004 Jul 19-21

30

19

12

35

4

2004 May 21-23

28

19

12

37

4

2003 Sep 19-21

30

20

15

32

3

2001 Oct 5-6

60

27

5

5

3



4a. (Asked of Kerry voters) If George W. Bush is re-elected in November, would you be – very upset, somewhat upset, not too upset, or not at all upset?

 

           

Very
upset

Somewhat upset

Not too upset

Not at all upset

No
opinion

 

%

%

%

%

%

Registered Voters

 

 

 

 

 

2004 Oct 11-14

57

25

8

8

2

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Adults

 

 

 

 

 

2004 Oct 11-14

57

25

8

8

2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Based on -- 409 -- registered voters who would vote for Kerry; ±5 pct. Pts.

Based on -- 428 -- national adults who would vote for Kerry; ±5 pct. Pts.


4B. (Asked of Bush voters) If John Kerry is elected president in November, would you be – very upset, somewhat upset, not too upset, or not at all upset?

 

Very
upset

Somewhat upset

Not too upset

Not at all upset

No
opinion

 

%

%

%

%

%

Registered Voters

 

 

 

 

 

2004 Oct 11-14

50

33

10

7

*

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Adults

 

 

 

 

 

2004 Oct 11-14

48

33

11

7

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Based on -- 410 -- registered voters who would vote for Bush; ±5 pct. Pts.

Based on -- 431 -- national adults who would vote for Bush; ±5 pct. Pts.

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