Monday, January 29, 2007

Battling Bush Fatigue

Back during Clinton's second term when the 2000 elections were in full swing, there was much talk about Clinton fatigue.

WASHINGTON (May 27, 1999) -- From bimbo eruptions to draft dodging to pot smoking to Whitewater to the Lincoln Bedroom to Monica Lewinsky, Clinton's personal life has drained the country.

Sure, Clinton's agenda remains popular. Most people continue to think President Clinton is doing a good job, although the war in Kosovo is beginning to create some doubts. But the president's personal behavior? Americans have long since tired of that soap opera.

The message is, enough already and it's showing up politically in the form of Clinton fatigue. Ask the public, 'What if Clinton actively supports Al Gore and campaigns for him -- would that make you more or less likely to vote for Gore?' Most voters say Clinton hurts Gore and only 29 percent say Clinton helps him. If voting for Gore seems like giving Clinton a third term, people really don't want to do that, even though times are good -- enough of Clinton already.

Right now the Republicans are probably feeling the effect of Bush fatigue. And if Clinton fatigue was a problem for Al Gore back then, Bush fatigue is going to be an even bigger problem for any Republican candidate in 2008, given that President Bush hasn't got (and never really had) the bedrock popularity, charisma, and "celebrity" of President Clinton.

Following the President's State of the Union Address, Newsweek reports a new poll that indicates the country is just plain tired of President Bush.

President George W. Bush concluded his annual State of the Union address this week with the words “the State of our Union is strong . . . our cause in the world is right . . . and tonight that cause goes on.” Maybe so, but the state of the Bush administration is at its worst yet, according to the latest NEWSWEEK Poll. The president’s approval ratings are at their lowest point in the poll’s history—30 percent—and more than half the country (58 percent) say they wish the Bush presidency were simply over, a sentiment that is almost unanimous among Democrats (86 percent), and is shared by a clear majority (59 percent) of independents and even one in five (21 percent) Republicans. Half (49 percent) of all registered voters would rather see a Democrat elected president in 2008, compared to just 28 percent who’d prefer the GOP to remain in the White House.

Fifty-eight percent is quite a vote of no confidence, although this poll is hardly official. But if the public sees another Republican administration as simply a continuation of the Bush presidency and its policies, then the going just got even rougher for the Republican candidates. We will surely see a scramble by likely candidates to distance themselves from the President (which shouldn't be too hard for John McCain, having already had much practice at it). Republicans will have to assure voters that they differ from both the President and any Democratic candidates.

Political triangulation was Clinton's specialty. Can Republicans adopt it as a winning strategy?

By the way, only four Presidents have gone lower than Bush's 30% approval rating since Gallup began doing these polls when FDR was president: George Bush, Sr. at 29% in a poll taken in August, 1992; Carter at 28% in July of 79; Nixon at 23% in a poll taken the first week of 1974; and Truman at 22% in a poll taken in February of 1952. Does anyone know what accounted for Truman's low approval in 1952?

The Newsweek poll also had good news for Republicans.

[T]he new poll, which examined the preferences of registered Democrats for their party’s presidential nomination in 2008, shows that Sen. Hillary Clinton, an initial supporter of the war, has a 20-point lead over junior Sen. Barack Obama (55 percent to 35 percent) and a 34-point lead over former Sen. John Edwards (63 percent to 29 percent).

If Hillary got the nomination, Republicans could rest a bit. After all, there is still a whiff of Clinton fatigue in the air.

More poll results here.


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