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Could Big Business Scandals Erode President Bush's Popularity In the Future? - 2002-07-18


Growing public concern over the U.S. economy appears to be chipping away at President Bush's remarkably high approval ratings. Some new public opinion polls indicate possible political trouble ahead for the White House.

The latest surveys show the president's public approval rating still hovering around 70 percent. While still high, that is down from a peak of nearly 90 percent in the aftermath of the September 11th terror attacks.

The new polls show increasing public concern over the Bush administration's ability to deal with economic problems in general, and corporate scandals in particular.

Stuart Rothenberg, who publishes a political newsletter here in Washington, said, "I don't see any direct impact at the moment but the environment is awfully ominous for him. There are just so many dangers. There is so much out there in terms of corporate abuse, the economy, the stock market. All of these are really landmines for the president and for his party."

For example, the latest poll conducted by The New York Times and CBS News found that 58 percent of those surveyed believe that big business has too much influence on President Bush. Sixty-two-percent of those asked also believe that the recent corporate accounting scandals could have a very serious impact on the national economy.

The president has vowed to get tough with those responsible for the accounting scandals. At the same time, he has been busy trying to convince the public that the economy remains sound. "The key thing for the American people is to realize that the fundamentals for economic vitality and growth are there, low interest rates, good monetary policy, productivity increases," Mr. Bush said.

Republicans remain encouraged that while there has been a dip, the president's poll ratings remain high. The Times poll found that 68 percent of those surveyed believe that Mr. Bush does care about ordinary Americans, while 27 percent do not.

Analyst Stuart Rothenberg said the president continues to benefit from an important asset for any politician - likability. "Well, initially the focus on the war on terrorism and foreign policy helped prop him up. I think now he is benefiting from just very strong personal image, a reputation of honesty and integrity," he said.

But for the first time, opposition Democrats sense what may be a weakness in the president's popularity.

Democratic lawmakers, like Congressman James Langevin of Rhode Island, continually take the president to task for not being tough enough on corporate fraud. "While I welcome the president's comments during his visit to Wall Street last week, this looming crisis requires a firm commitment from our administration to seriously address this problem," Mr. Langevin said.

Analyst Stuart Rothenberg said Democrats may be looking to replay what happened to the president's father in 1992. After soaring popularity following the Gulf War, the elder Mr. Bush was blamed for a faltering economy and lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton.

"You know, people can turn very quickly. They haven't yet. But there is just so much negative coverage out there that I think that this President Bush has to worry that he could face, not will, but could face a fate similar to his father," Mr. Rothenberg said.

The president's Republican supporters are concerned about the economy but insist Mr. Bush remains a strong bet for re-election. After all, another set of recent state polls showed the president easily defeating most of the Democrats looking to challenge him in 2004.

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