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Poll Analysis
November 18, 2003

Support for War Holding in Colorado,
but President’s Approval Drops to New Low

Analysis by Floyd Ciruli

National support for the war in Iraq declined significantly during September and October due to the intensified terrorist attacks, U.S. casualties and $87 billion Congressional appropriation. Several national polls have recorded significant declines in public support for the war and the Bush administration’s handling of it. For example:

  • 51% disapprove of the way Bush is handling the situation in Iraq—only 37% disapproved in August. Oct. 29, 2003 Washington Post

  • 54% believe the situation in Iraq was “worth going to war over”—down from 63% in August. Nov. 5, 2003 Gallup

Support for U.S. Presence in Iraq
However, when voters are asked if they support or oppose U.S. military presence in Iraq, most support it. Sixty-four percent of Colorado voters support U.S. military presence (although that figure has dropped 4 percentage points since July 2003). The most recent national poll indicates 71% support (Washington Post/ABC News, Sept. 13, 2003).

Question: As of today, do you support or oppose the current U.S. military presence in Iraq?

The higher support level for the military ‘presence’ question reflects the starker choice presented in the response categories. Opposition implies abandonment of the effort and withdrawal from Iraq. Nationally, polls show less than a fifth of voters support complete withdrawal (although another 30% to 50% support some level of troop reduction). In addition, support does not preclude other nations, the UN or the Iraqis from playing a significant role in providing security and stabilization.

Support for President
Approval of President Bush’s job performance has declined from highs registered post-9/11 and at the start of war in Iraq. Approval has stabilized in the mid to low 50% range in most national polls. In Colorado, President Bush’s job approval has dropped to 51% in the latest survey; 42% disapprove the job he’s doing.

Question: Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president?

The economy has been an even bigger burden than Iraq for Bush’s approval rating. For most of the last two years, more people have disapproved of his handling of the economy than have approved. Fortunately for the president, recovery now appears on solid ground and even the number of new jobs produced has picked up. More people polled now believe economic conditions are getting better, not worse, which is the most optimistic economic outlook since early 2002 (Gallup 53% better, 37% worse, Nov. 2003).

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Polarized Electorate
The American public is closely divided in its preference for Democrats or Republicans, as reflected in the 2000 presidential, senatorial and congressional elections and the equal share of voters who self-identify with parties (31% each Democrat, Republican and independents, ABC NEWS/Washington Post, Oct.29, 2003).

Although 9/11 rallied much of the public behind Bush, as of the fall of 2003 Colorado voters are again deeply polarized about Bush. Seventy-nine percent of Republicans approve the job the president is doing and 75% of Democrats disapprove.

Bush Job Performance
Comparing Party and Gender
Approval Disapproval
Total 51% 42%
Republican 79% 16%
Unaffiliated 43% 52%
Democrat 14% 75%
Male 54% 39%
Female 49% 44%
Ciruli Associates, N400, Oct. 27-28, 2003

Currently there is a small gender gap in which men are five percentage points more likely to approve of Bush’s job performance than women.

Presidential Primary
National polls show the president continues to hold the advantage for re-election, but his position has weakened in recent weeks as support for the war has decreased and criticism from Democrat presidential candidates has increased. A national Gallup poll of Oct. 24-26 shows Bush has only a 3 percentage point advantage over an unnamed “Democratic candidate,” 46% to 43%. (Question: If George W. Bush runs for re-election in 2004, in general, are you more likely to vote for Bush or for the Democratic Party’s candidate for president?”) Bush was ahead 51% to 39% in August.

However, when tested head-to-head, Bush beats the leading Democratic candidates by up to nine percentage points. Bush’s strength is a partial reflection of the fuzziness of the Democratic field. The latest Gallup survey shows a wide open race for the Democratic nomination with as many as half of Democrat voters being unfamiliar with the leading candidates. There are five top candidates; Howard Dean is leading the pack.

Bush Job Performance
Comparing Party and Gender
L.A Times
Feb. '03
Sep. '03
Nov. '03
Lieberman 25% 10% 15%
Kerry 20% 11% 10%
Edwards 8% 4% 7%
Hart 8% -- --
Gephardt 6% 11% 12%
Sharpton 2% 4% 3%
Dean 1% 13% 17%
Clark -- 22% 14%
Don't know/other 30% 25% 22%
Ciruli Associates, 2003

Democratic voters also are divided concerning the strategy for the 2004 election. There are nearly as many voters who want to be pragmatic and pick a candidate on his likelihood to win as there are primary voters who insist on a nominee that reflects the party’s liberal philosophy. A near majority want a candidate to confront Bush on Iraq and tax cuts but a large plurality prefer more compromise on key issues.

Wesley Clark’s powerful emergence in September reflects these divisions and shows the fragile hold the main candidates have over national Democratic voters. It also appears to reinforce the trend of several recent elections in which voters are looking for new faces without strong partisan identities (e.g., John Hickenlooper in Denver and Arnold Schwarzenegger in California). Finally, with war and terror the top issues, Democrats are eager to have a candidate who can criticize the administration’s foreign policy without appearing weak.

Of course, the nomination is not a national referendum but a series of state level contests that produces a nominee. In the state races where meaningful polls are available, Dick Gephardt and Dean are battling for Iowa and Dean and Bob Kerry are the leading Democratic candidates in New Hampshire. As of mid-November, Dean has the advantage by uniting much of the non-minority liberal wing of the party, especially among the party’s large and energized peace wing, capturing several major labor endorsements and assembling a fundraising base organized through the Internet.

But the delegate selection process doesn’t begin in earnest until Jan. 19 in Iowa and Jan. 27 in New Hampshire, plenty of time for surprise between now and then.

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The latest telephone survey reported here was conducted October 27-28, 2003 with 400 frequent Colorado voters (statistical range of accuracy ±4.9 percentage points). Analysis of foreign policy issues is part of regular reports on major policy topics. To view recent Ciruli Associates public opinion reports log on to www.ciruli.com.

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Ciruli Associates is a non-partisan research, communication and public policy firm providing consulting for Colorado and national organizations since 1976.

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