On Monday, in the afterglow of the media’s positive reports about the Iraqi elections, the February 7 Gallup Poll/CNN poll gave Bush a 57 percent approval rating – his highest rating since the capture of Saddam Hussein. Now, just four days later, the glow has apparently faded completely. According to the Associated Press, Bush’s approval in their latest poll is 45 percent.
Could be a polling fluke, God knows, but it’s more likely a reminder that the swing voters are still out there – and they still haven’t made up their minds about George Bush. The media says we’re a divided nation, like it’s 50/50. But it’s really more like 40/40/20, with 40 percent who love Bush no matter what, and 40 percent who absolutely do not. The remaining 20 percent – a group I like to call the “Swingsters” – are still on the fence.
Swingsters think of themselves as “independents” whose opinions aren’t captive to either party. Their judgments are not sullied by ideology, they say, but rather are based on objective analysis of the character of the candidate and his policies. The rest of us are a lot less charitable. We tend to think of them as wishy-washy and, well, dim. The central irony of the debacle of the elections last November is that this group of voters who bend with whatever breeze comes down the pike finally couldn’t bring themselves to vote for John Kerry because they believed he was a flip-flopper.
One bit of analysis we could take away from this drop in the polls (assuming its real) is that the Swingsters have very low expectations of President Bush. So it only takes one or two good press reports to get them singing his Hosannnas. During the Iraqi elections, the massive suicide attacks that had been threatened never transpired and just a few dozen voters were killed – so the elections were deemed a big success. At the State of the Union, on February 2, Bush read his speech without a noteworthy gaffe, and it was filled with even more flowery, upbeat rhetoric than most, perhaps to counter his natural, involuntary snarkiness. Plus, he did not appear to have electronic devices hidden in his coat. Another triumph. Bush also did a round of television interviews, including one with Brian Lamb at C-SPAN in which he discussed a book a book he’d read, “The Case for Democracy,” by Natan Sharansky. He’d have to be smart to read something like that. Right?
As a result, good buzz emanated from water coolers across the land and over the weekend, when the polls were taken, the poor Swingsters – who want to like Bush, they really, really do – were swept up in the euphoria. But as the week wore on, them ol’ devilish details about the SOTU speech came out. Turns out the Preznint’s flowery rhetoric hid the fact that what he really plans to do is phase out Social Security and cut education funding and veterans benefits, among other things. Disappointed again, by Friday the Swingsters had turned on Bush again, slapping him with a 12 point drop in popularity.
The Swingsters aren’t bad people. They’re just looking for a leader. Maybe they gravitate to Bush because he fulfills a familiar idea of a modern leader: the corporate division manager at the company where they work. But if the poll drop is as real, maybe he’s looking less like that guy every day.