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The Los Angeles Times runs a major story in its Nation section this morning that looks like a refugee from October. Peter Wallsten obsesses about George Bush's approval rating based on recent polling despite the results from the big poll on November 2nd:
Despite a clear-cut reelection and the prospect of lasting GOP dominance in Congress, President Bush prepares to start his second term with the lowest approval ratings of any just-elected sitting president in half a century, according to new surveys.
That distinction, which pollsters and analysts blame on public discontent over the war in Iraq, comes as Bush begins drafting two major speeches that could quickly recast his image: an inaugural address Jan. 20 and the State of the Union soon after. Bracketed between them is the Jan. 30 election in Iraq, another milestone that could affect public impressions of Bush.
In two words: so what? First, George Bush just won the last election in which he'll ever run. Polling at this point is essentially meaningless. In fact, the whole point of term limits is to free politicians in their last term from worrying about approval ratings and allow them to do their jobs with more long-term vision.
The headline on the article also underscores the Times' cluelessness: "Reelection Honeymoon With Voters Eludes Bush, Polls Say." Re-elected officials don't get honeymoons. Sometimes they have political capital, but in this case that has nothing to do with approval ratings from a Gallup poll but the fact that Bush carried a number of new GOP lawmakers into Congress. The freshman class in the House and Senate knows that their expanded majority comes from George Bush and his leadership. They're not worried about a 49 in December 2004, before they even get sworn into office.
Bush's approval ratings will only matter in the next Congressional election cycle -- 22 months from now. What can change in that time? As Wallsten notes, Iraq will hold its first democratic elections, Afghanistan will continue building their democracy, Ukraine has already thrown off the shackles that bound their own, and the Palestinians will hold the first presidential elections in a decade -- which gives the US an opening to exploit for a resolution to the Palestinian problem. In short, we will have moved two years further into Bush's forward policy of engagement in Southwest Asia and will have a better perspective on its results.
At that point, Bush's approval ratings matter indirectly only as far as he impacts individual Congressional races. However, as the Times also notes, he went into the election with a 49 and still won re-election with a 3-million-vote margin and managed to win 4 additional seats in the Senate as well as add more seats to the GOP majority in the House. Bush apparently doesn't need more than a 49 to beat the Democrats into oblivion as he has done in three straight election cycles. Maybe Wallsten and Gallup need to start polling on Democrats to find out why Bush keeps winning.Sphere It View blog reactions
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