The new CBS–New York Times poll described in this article contains a lot of pretty bleak news for President Bush. His approval rating of 53% actually masks a series of more ominous ‘internals’ contained in the poll.
For all the good the ‘energy crisis‘ was supposed to do for the administration, only a pitiful 33% of the public approves his handling of energy policy. Almost two-thirds of the public believes Bush and Cheney “are too beholden to oil companies, and that they are more likely to formulate policies that favor the industry.” In fact there doesn’t really seem to be any domestic policy issue on which the administration’s positions don’t run against the majority viewpoint (and in case you’re wondering, that’s not good.)
There is something else striking in these numbers — something which has become increasingly apparent in the last month or so. President Bush really is the anti-Clinton, only not quite in the way his supporters and flacks probably intended. And not in a way likely to do him much good.
Bill Clinton was notoriously weak in how the American people judged him as a person — at least in the narrow way pollsters ascertain such information. But a broad majority of Americans consistently and persistently believed he cared about, understood, and was working on issues and problems which were important in their daily lives. I’ve called this the politics of empathy — an idea which figures prominently in a book I’m working on — and it was something that Clinton mastered and in some respects invented.
What the Times poll shows is that President Bush is almost the mirror opposite. Despite some falling numbers on the personal approval level, most voters think the President is a decent enough fellow. But substantial majorities of them don’t think he cares about the issues which matter to them, or doesn’t understand them. As the Times piece notes, this is ominously similar to the problems Bush’s dad faced in office. And it points to a basic structural problem in the sort of politics Bush is trying to pursue.