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Jewish World Review June 27, 2001 / 6 Tamuz 5761

Morton Kondracke

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Polls Show Bush, GOP
Vulnerable On Policy Issues -- PRESIDENT BUSH'S poll numbers are holding up well despite a soft economy, but support for his program and his party are shaky, indicating that Democrats have a good chance of dominating the 2002 Congressional elections.

Most polls show Bush's job-approval rating dipping slightly, but still in the low- to mid-50s. But the Democracy Corps poll, run by former Al Gore pollster Stan Greenberg, puts Bush's approval at 58 percent.

The Greenberg results are especially interesting because the respondents were likely 2002 voters, not just general adults, as in most polls.

The Democracy Corps poll indicates that Democrats enjoy just a 2-point lead on the generic 2002 Congressional ballot, but that it expands to 8 points when voters are given arguments for and against Bush's tax cut, which deserves to be the centerpiece of the campaign.

The endgame of this year's Congressional budget action could also play into Democratic hands if Bush can be induced to veto popular education and health spending proposals because his tax cut won't accommodate them.

Asked a straightaway question about whether they support Bush's tax and budget plans, 54 percent of likely voters said they do, according to the Greenberg poll.

However, when presented with a Republican candidate's case that Americans are overtaxed, that no changes should be made in Bush's "biggest tax cut on record," that Democrats want to repeal parts of it and spend the money in Washington, 43 percent of voters say they'd support him or her.

A rival Democratic candidate polls 51percent arguing that Bush's tax cut is too big, it benefits the top 1 percent of taxpayers the most and breaks for the rich should be canceled to "increase spending on education and keep the Medicare trust fund solvent."

A June 8 Gallup poll of adults gave Democratic candidates a 50-43 edge on the generic question. Last month a Zogby poll showed that Democrats have a 4-point lead, but also found that a plurality of adults are undecided.

Such generic results, of course, showed no correlation whatsoever with the latest real-world Congressional election, won by Republican Randy Forbes in southern Virginia, by a margin of 52 to 48 percent.

Bush and his party have plenty of time to convince voters that their policies are working, but the polls indicate grave doubts at the moment. In the Greenberg poll, for instance, 70 percent of voters supported canceling rate cuts for the top 1 percent of taxpayers to create a prescription drug benefit for all seniors. Bush's plan contains money only for aiding low-income seniors.

On other questions, 65 percent of voters would support canceling the top rate cut to ensure there is no borrowing from the Medicare trust fund, and 61 percent would do so to increase education spending by $200 billion.

Public polls conducted so far indicate that Bush himself still enjoys a substantial advantage over potential 2004 Democratic rivals - 50 to 38 percent in a rematch against Al Gore, according to a Fox News-Opinion Dynamics poll, and 49 to 43 percent in a Gallup Poll.

The Fox poll showed Bush leading Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) by 53 to 32 percent. However, when Greenberg matched Bush against a no-name generic Democrat, the two tied at 44 percent.

There's a difference among polls, incidentally, on whether Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), running as an Independent, would draw more from the Democrat or Bush.

According to Greenberg, McCain would draw 22 percent, giving Bush a 42-29 edge over an unnamed Democrat. Similarly, Fox showed McCain winning 20 percent and giving Bush a 44-28 lead over Gore.

However, a Gallup poll showed that McCain would pull Bush down by 11 points and Gore by 6, leaving them in a virtual tie.

Meantime, the new CBS-New York Times poll shows that the public is skeptical about most of Bush's domestic policies. By 64 to 28 percent, adults would rather have the budget surplus spent on Social Security and Medicare than on tax cuts.

Regarding Medicare, by 62 to 35 percent, respondents favored a drug benefit for all seniors, not just those with small incomes. And by 50 to 11 percent, they favor allowing patients to sue their HMOs even if it results in higher insurance premiums.

Beyond shaky polls on issues, Bush faces the possibility this year of being forced to veto programs the public favors. He has vowed to use his veto power to hold spending to a 4 percent increase. Democrats are determined to seek more.

Conceivably, a series of budget veto fights could lead to a partial closing down of the federal government, which would give Democrats a chance to portray Bush as a gentler version of ex-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). If that happens, 2002 could be a bad year for Republicans.

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments by clicking here.

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