After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush's job approval ratings soared, and his average overall rating remains 16 percentage points higher today than that measured immediately before the attacks. Young adults in the 18-to-24 age group, whose presidential approval ratings were among the lowest before the attacks, now rank among the age groups giving the president higher ratings. This group's attitudes are particularly relevant to the long-term future of the Republican Party, as the current assessments of young adults may foster attitudes that affect their voting habits for decades. How do Americans aged 18 to 24 feel about Bush's handling of his presidency, and how do these ratings compare with those from older Americans?
Data from July to September 2002* show that Bush's quarterly job approval rating, which stands at 70% among young adults, is generally in line with ratings from most other age groups. It is somewhat higher among the youngest age group than it is among Americans aged 60 and older (and especially those 70 and older), but slightly below the ratings of those between the ages of 30 and 49, among whom 73% approve.
Pre- and Post-Sept. 11 Ratings
To date, Bush's approval ratings have gone through three distinct phases: a pre-Sept. 11 period when his ratings were generally average from a historical perspective, a post-Sept. 11 phase of unprecedented high ratings, and a more recent period of steady decline from the previous high scores. These shifts follow the same pattern in all age groups, though they have tended to be slightly more moderate among young adults.
Prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, only a slight majority of adults aged 18 to 24 -- an average of 53% -- said they approved of Bush's handling of the presidency. In the months following the attacks, that figure shot up to more than eight in 10, though Americans in this age category were still the least likely from any age group to approve of Bush.
Americans aged 50 and older showed similar levels of support for Bush as did young adults prior to the attacks, but their overall ratings of Bush rose higher than that of 18- to 24-year-olds in the subsequent months. From July 2001 through the beginning of September 2001**, a slight majority of adults aged 50 and older approved of Bush; after Sept. 11***, 90% of people in their 50s and 60s, and 86% of people aged 70 and older approved.
While the post-Sept. 11 surge was relatively low among 18- to 24-year-olds (a 29-point increase), they have shown less decline than other groups since that time, just 12 points.
The increase in Bush's quarterly ratings following the terrorist attacks was roughly 30 percentage points among adults under the age of 50 and about 35 percentage points among people over age 50. The gradual drop in Bush's ratings, however, was not as consistent among smaller age groups, and, just as the rise in approval was most moderate among the youngest group, adults aged 18 to 24, so was the subsequent decline.
*Results are based on telephone interviews with 10,652 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted July to September 2002. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1%. 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.
**Results are based on telephone interviews with 6,902 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted July to September 2001. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1%.
***Results are based on telephone interviews with 7,917 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted September to November 2001. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1%.