George W. Bushâ€™s admission that he expects to leave the Iraq War mess behind for his successor to clean up underscores why he is facing a historic collapse in polls across the country, with tracking surveys now showing him with net negatives exceeding 20 percentage points in more than half the states.
According to SurveyUSA.com, which tracks Bushâ€™s approval ratings in all 50 states, Bushâ€™s support in the March readings plunged to double-digit net negative numbers even in some staunchly Republican states: -12% in South Carolina, -17% in Indiana, -18% in Virginia, and -19% in Tennessee. In Bushâ€™s home state of Texas, public disapproval topped approval by 14 percentage points.
All told, Bush â€“ dragged down by the Iraq War, his inept Katrina response and the exploding federal debt â€“ has higher disapproval than approval numbers in 43 states. Bush is at -10% or worse in 37 states; -20% or worse in 26 states; -30% or worse in 13 states; and a staggering -40% or worse in six states.
The March readings show Bush with positive numbers in only seven states (and then by mostly narrow margins): Nebraska +1%, Mississippi +2%, Oklahoma +2%, Idaho +3%, Alabama +5%, Wyoming +7%, and Utah +13%.
While SurveyUSA.comâ€™s averaging of the numbers for the 50 states fits with recent national surveys showing Bush with about 35% approval and 60% disapproval â€“ a net negative of 25 points â€“ the state-by-state numbers highlight the pervasiveness of Bushâ€™s political troubles.
The dismal numbers also help explain why some Republicans, facing elections this November, are shying away from Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, who suffers even lower ratings than Bush.
Plus, over the past half year, Bush has shown little ability to rebound. His national numbers have been low since last summerâ€™s Katrina debacle reinforced doubts about his administrationâ€™s competence, which already had taken a beating over the Iraq War. Those concerns now have mixed with growing suspicions about his honesty.
Still, despite last yearâ€™s post-Katrina slump, Bush retained favorable numbers in many â€œred statesâ€? that he carried in 2004. In most months, he was even or in positive numbers in at least 10 states, though in November 2005 the number of plus or break-even states slid to six.
Even then, however, Bush enjoyed robust numbers in the reddest â€œred statesâ€? â€“ with a +21% bulge in Utah and +20% in Idaho. There were also fewer extremely negative numbers in November, with Bush at -10% or worse in only 15 states, compared to 37 such states now.
By March 2006, Bushâ€™s public support had crumbled across the country. Even among his seven favorable states, his edge was within the polling â€œmargin of errorâ€? in four of them, meaning that Bush might be down to as few as three states still favoring him. In Election 2004, Bush carried those same seven states by margins ranging from +20% to +46%.
The seven remaining pro-Bush states also are lightly populated, accounting for only 16.5 million people or less than 6% of the U.S. population in the 2000 census. They have just 39 electoral votes.
Bushâ€™s plunge in the polls has been perhaps most dramatic in the swing states of Florida and Ohio, where Bush claimed his controversial victories in Election 2000 and Election 2004, respectively. Bush now gets a net approval rating in Ohio of -30% and in Florida -22%.
In other swing states of Election 2004, Bushâ€™s net ratings are -23% in Nevada and New Mexico; -24% in Missouri; -25% in Colorado; -27% in Iowa; and -28% in Arkansas.
Given the depth and breadth of this political collapse, itâ€™s hard to envision how Bush can rebuild his standing between now and November, short of some major external event, such as the death or capture of Osama bin-Laden, or a breakthrough in the Iraq War, or the nation rallying around him because of some new military or terrorist crisis.
Across the Internet, there has been open speculation by Bush critics that he might cynically launch a new war against Iran to bolster his numbers â€“ or that Republicans will resort to widespread electoral fraud to keep control of Congress.
But the realistic options for Bush turning his predicament around seem to be narrowing as he loses support even in his strongest political strongholds. Plus, the likely course of events in the Middle East and domestically do not seem to favor Bush.
At his press conference on March 21, Bush acknowledged that the continuing bloodshed in Iraq had drained his political capital. He then blurted out that the issue of whether to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq would be decided by â€œfuture presidents and future governments of Iraq.â€?
This comment marked one of the few times Bush has given a clue about how long he expects the war to continue.
But the suggestion that his successors will have to make the hard decisions on extricating U.S. troops reinforces Bushâ€™s image as a feckless son of privilege who rushes into projects, flounders and then gets bailed out by others. [See Consortiumnews.comâ€™s â€œThe Bush Family â€˜Oiligarchyâ€™â€? or Robert Parryâ€™s Secrecy & Privilege.]
Bushâ€™s critics also are sure to accuse him of dragging out the war â€“ and getting thousands of more Americans and Iraqis killed â€“ in part to avoid having to take responsibility for his own mistakes. By extending the war until 2009, Bushâ€™s supporters also may be hoping to blame whoever succeeds Bush for â€œlosing Iraq.â€?
While this strategy of palming off the Iraq disaster on a future President might make some sense for the political legacies of Bush and his neoconservative allies, itâ€™s unlikely to help Republicans in this Novemberâ€™s elections.
GOP candidates will face a choice of either distancing themselves from the President (and risking alienating Bushâ€™s hard-core backers) or tying themselves to Bush (and having voters opt for a more independent candidate).
Still, even with Bushâ€™s low poll numbers, the chances for a Democratic sweep of the House and Senate donâ€™t appear high, given the limited number of â€œcompetitiveâ€? seats. But political analysts canâ€™t rule out an electoral tidal wave, like the one in 1994 that overwhelmed the Democrats and carried the Republicans to majorities in both chambers.
Whatever the outcome in November, however, Bushâ€™s personal reversal of fortune over the past several months has been extraordinary.
For a â€œwartimeâ€? President who celebrated his Second Inaugural with high-blown rhetoric only 14 months ago â€“ and who once enjoyed 90% approval ratings â€“ to be clinging to positive ratings in only seven states represents a political flameout not seen in Washington since the Watergate scandal drove Richard Nixon from office more than three decades ago.
Plus, Bushâ€™s supporters canâ€™t just point to their manâ€™s unpopularity among â€œliberal elitesâ€? in Hollywood or Manhattan.
With more and more Americans judging him â€œincompetentâ€? and â€œdishonest,â€? Bush is also losing the backing of millions of Middle Americans in states like Texas, Ohio and South Dakota.