Only Popular If You Win

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True for sports teams, and for presidents.

The Rasmussen Reports daily tracking poll of President Bush's popularity pegs him with a 41 percent approval rating. Interestingly, that is also the percentage of those polled who believe the United States is winning the war on terror.

And perhaps most interesting of all, the percentage of those polled who think America had changed for the better has steadily marched downward since the aftermath of 9/11. In October 2001 57 percent said America had changed for the better. In September 2006, that number is just 21 percent—a complete reversal.

Blame high gas prices or the moon phase, but that is a big shift toward a negative outlook.

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  1. It’s a lesson the Argentines learned a long time ago. If you’re gonna be a War President, you’ve got to win the war. The longer we hear that we just need more focus on the good news from Iraq, the less it looks like winning.

  2. It’s a lesson the Argentines learned a long time ago. If you’re gonna be a War President, you’ve got to win the war. The longer we hear that we just need more focus on the good news from Iraq, the less it looks like winning.

  3. Its hard to remain popular when the major storytellers of your society are near universally united against you. All the cool kids hate Bush and they let everyone know it.

    In any case, it would seem from history that a presidents popularity in office is inversely proportional to how history will ultimately judge them. Presidents who accomplish great changes must provoke great controversy and in doing so demolish their broad appeal. Every wartime president except FDR suffered a dramatic loss of popularity. FDR was headed into the tank prior to Pearl Harbor and only his continuous lying about his true beliefs and actions got him re-elected and kept him in office up till that point. Without Pearl Harbor, America would have either never entered WWII or would have done so bitterly divided. In either case, FDR would have suffered politically for it.

    Wikipedia notes about Truman:

    Although he was forced out of his re-election campaign in 1952 because of the quagmire in Korea and extremely low approval ratings, scholars today rank him among the top ten Presidents. His honesty and integrity, his political courage, and his firm stand for Western democracy after World War II have earned him high praise from all political corners,

    Conversely, Presidents who retain popularity in office are often forgotten. I imagine that Clinton for example will join such luminaries as Calvin Coolidge (whom I personally admire for not doing much) in the annals of history.

  4. sorry for the double post, I got impatient. And you have the plesure of three comments where one would do.

  5. You’re doing a heckuva job, Shannon.

  6. I’m going with the gas price theory.

  7. I’m not quite sure what point Shannon is trying to make about FDR, but I find it hard to believe that he could have been too unpopular considering that he had outpolled his Republican opponent by 10 percentage points nationally just a year before Pearl Harbor.

    But of course you’re right that popularity doesn’t necessarily equate to being a good president. Truman may be considered a good president, but he most surely wasn’t considering that he unnecessarily nuked two Japanese cities and took the U.S. into an unnecessary war in South Korea. He deserved to be unpopular. So did Nixon. So does Dubya.

  8. “In any case, it would seem from history that a presidents popularity in office is inversely proportional to how history will ultimately judge them.”

    In related news, the Committee to Put Richard Nixon on Mount Rushmore announced that it had reached its goal of $100 million in volunteer contributions over five years early.

    I will add, however, that I agree Clinton will largely be forgotten — Presidents who preside over times of peace and prosperity generally don’t get much space in history books. However, being remembered by history and being remembered favorably are two different things.

  9. Rasmussen is very good at detecting small bumps, but his numbers for Bush’s popularity are a steady 5 points above the average of other reliable, nonpartisan polls.

    Very good for tracking changes over time, but I wouldn’t make a big deal over the absolute values he provides.

  10. “Its hard to remain popular when the major storytellers of your society are near universally united against you. All the cool kids hate Bush and they let everyone know it.”

    A better depiction of the “with us or against us” mindset I’ve never seen. Throughout the 2000 campaign, during the loooooonnnnggggg honeymoon after he took office, and of course, for 3+ years after 9/11, the media was deeply in the tank for George Bush. They were with him.

    They’re not with him anymore; ergo, they are against him. That they “hate” him, in this way of thinking, is very easily proven; when was the last time you read about how George Bush is someone you want to drink a beer with? Or seen him compared to Churchill?

    Voila, they’re agin’ him.

  11. Nixon was popular. Check the election results for both 68 and 72. The story of his pre-1974 unpopularity is historical reverse-engineering. He was still a lousy president. So was Harry Truman. And Jimmy Carter. And Woodrow Wilson. Moral of the story: Lousy presidents can be popular and lousy presidents can be unpopular. The only ingredient that matters is the lousiness. And Bush has enough of that to go around and around and around.

  12. I’m going with the gas theory too. His approval rankings go up and down with gas prices.

    Which is a pretty sad example of the average American’s understanding of basic economics.

  13. Speaking of gas, I’m impressed how far the Gnomes have pushed it down going into an election. Will it make it to $2?

  14. “Nixon was popular. Check the election results for both 68 and 72.”

    Yes, I know he won the elections handily. However his final year in office wasn’t exactly a high point in public perception of the presidency.

  15. “”when was the last time you read about how George Bush is someone you want to drink a beer with?””

    2004

    I would love to drink many beers with Bush, I think it would be a hilariously fun time. Look at the stuff he says when he’s sober, imagine what he would say when he’s drunk.

    But I drink beer with many people I don’t want in the White House.

  16. Since I don’t drink, I’m going to say that I’d like to have a beer with Orin Hatch. We’d both stare at the bottle and be like “Um, now what?”

  17. I would love to drink many beers with Bush, I think it would be a hilariously fun time. Look at the stuff he says when he’s sober, imagine what he would say when he’s drunk.

    One step ahead of you: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/bush/bush.html.

  18. But Tim: Wasnt Nixons win in 72 based on a fraudulent “Peace Plan” in VN? Didnt he actually boast of a “secret” peace plan, for a (finally!) seriously unpopular war?
    If he wins on a lie, it dosnt make him “popular”. It makes his a scumbag. Like Pres Cheneys flying monkey, Decider.

  19. Given that the Japanese military tried a military coup and almost succeeded even after the two bombs leads me to beleive that there wasn’t going to be surrender short of invasion or those two nukes.

  20. MUTT:

    Nixon’s `68 win was based on the “Secret Plan for Peace With Honor.” He only managed a popular vote plurality over Humphrey, what with George Wallace getting nearly 10 million PVs, and winning 46 electoral votes.

    In 1972, Nixon ran over McGovern. I attribute that to his “Vietnamization” of the war, which led to staged troop withdrawals. The draft lottery had been instituted, draftees were no longer being sent to the war, and the plan for ending the draft was in the works, though it was adopted after the election. Tricky had also put the squeeze on Fed Chair Arthur Burns to crank up the Inflato machine so that the economy would be out of recession by Election Day. Sure, we got horrible inflation from that, but most of it hit after the second term was cinched. By slapping controls on wages and prices in 1971, Nixon made it seem like he was “fighting inflation.” There were also the SALT I/Anti-ballistic missile treaty with the USSR and the ongoing SALT II talks, not to mention the Feb. `72 visit to China. The left hated him, the real free marketers loathed him – going so far as to found a Libertarian Party – but from the center-left to the near-right Nixon was a rock star by the end of his first term.

    Of course, it didn’t hurt RN that Wallace ran in the Democratic primaries, then got shot, or that the eventual Dem nominee was so out-of-touch with his party’s center and right. Nixon beat McGovern 60.7% – 37.5% in the popular vote, and 520-17 in the Electoral College.*

    Still, Sic transit gloria mundi, right?

    Kevin

    * and one for John Hospers! Yay, LP!

  21. The End of Affluence
    By Jeff Madrick
    >>>>The last time Americans were strongly in favor of balancing the federal budget was during the Great Depression. Then, as now, the public generally thought that budget deficits were the cause rather than the result of their economic problems, and few politicians, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, disagreed or dared to contradict them. In his 1932 presidential campaign, Roosevelt criticized Herbert Hoover for not reducing federal deficits, and when the economy began to recover later in his first term, partly because of his own spending programs, he decided to deal firmly with the government’s growing deficit. By 1936, the deficit had risen to more than 5 percent of the gross national product, compared to less than 3 percent today. But FDR’s sharp cuts in government spending in 1937 did not have the effects he had hoped for; instead they contributed to a sudden, fierce recession later that year which reduced tax revenues and thwarted any attempts to balance the budget.>>>>

    So much for FDR’s popularity being tied to fiscal responsibility. And Lincoln was our most popular president during his entire presidency, (Ho Ho), never mind that he locked up newspaper people like drunks on saturday night. Or swore out a warrant for the arrest of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

    And 2 plus 2 is 5.

    Chris, , , , on Truman.

    You got it!!!

    The facts are that Lincoln, FDR and Truman are considered good presidents today only because they got things done. The fact are that Karl Marx was a big fan of Lincoln, FDR’s 1940 opponent was a closet communist, and Truman’s popularity was in the tank so far on election day, 1948 that Dewey came to his election headquarters that night holding up a newspaper proclaiming him the next president.

    K.B. O’Reilly’s “but he most surely wasn’t considering that he unnecessarily nuked two Japanese cities and took the U.S. into an unnecessary war in South Korea.” tells me he attemded one of Ward Churchill’s classes.

    Kinda like hearing once again that radical Muslims really don’t mean us any harm.

  22. …Truman’s popularity was in the tank so far on election day, 1948 that Dewey came to his election headquarters that night holding up a newspaper proclaiming him the next president…

    Close, but not quite right.

    The fact is that “Truman’s popularity was in the tank so far on election day” that every major paper was predictind a Dewey win. The count at midnight seemed so certain for Dewey that the Chicago Daily Tribune ran it’s first edition after election day with the lead headline “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN”.

    Truman got a copy and held it up defiantly when the final results showed that he had won.

    I understand the Tribune tried to recall the offending copies but a number got into circulation and are still prized collectors’ items.

  23. thanks for that waltz down Memory Lane, Kevrob.
    I can remember the 72 election, if only recalling my feet: I had a paper bag over my head as I went door to door in rural Varmint tryin to get folks to vote for McGovern.
    Cuz “Vietnamization” was nothing more than indiscriminate, massive, aerial bombardment. Of a place we shouldnt never have gone to.
    And stopping drafting middle/upper class kids.
    Like I said: a fraud.
    Interesting note. Us hipsters busted our humps workin on nieghbors fahms, when the time came, so they cut us some slack w/ our politics (ask me about the time we smuggled a Honest- to -Madame Binh member of the NLF to speak at the Chelsea Town Hall) but within a couple weeks of Nixons 72 win, he cut subsidies for dairy cow grain, which put, one after another, multi generational dairy farm out of business. (to be greeted with “Huzzahs” by the “invisible hand” cultists, who know the price of everyrthing & the value of nothing, but I digress)They were shocked- SHOCKED! to be screwed by a Republican. And that was pretty much the end of Repub dominance in Varmint politics.

  24. To be fair to Nixon, they stopped drafting everyone, though the middle- and upper-class demographic was certainly at the heart of the “anti-war” movement. As soon as having your elephant bells and denim jacket traded in for some BDUs by force became history, the Peace movement, as it once was, was kaput. This was of great interest to me at the time, as my birth-year cohort was the last to have to sign up for a draft card. We had a good laugh on Draft Lottery Day, because not even the schmoe with the lowest number had anything to worry about. Guys whose older brothers had jumped through hoops to keep their deferments were seen chatting up the ROTC recruiting officer on campus, cause, hey, a free education and a 5-year job was nothing to sneeze at, as long as you weren’t likely to have to slog through the Mekong Delta!

    Of course “Vietnamization” was a fraud: that’s what America wanted – to withdraw from Viet Nam without having to admit that we had lost the war. Air power and technical advisors would give the ARVN time to train up to a standard that would allow it to at least maintain a Korea-like stalemate. Then the Indochina hairball would be out of the way, and RN and Kissinger could play their game of diplomatic Risk with the PRC and the USSR.

    Watergate made it impossible for Nixon, and Ford after him, to manage the endgame, and it all blowed up good. Perhaps there is a lesson there for our current Administration? They certainly never learned Never get involved in a land war in Asia…

    Kevin

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