USA Today reports that President Bush’s job approval rating has dropped below 60% for the first time since the 9/11 attacks. The paper said, “The number reflects a rising uncertainty about a sluggish economy and the prospects of conflict with Iraq and North Korea.” Approval for Bush’s handling of the economy slipped to 48 percent. The “rising uncertainty” about the economy may stem from negative coverage, especially on the still-influential evening news programs that most people watch for news. Neil Cavuto, managing editor of business news at Fox News Channel, is amazed “by the consistent, half-empty glass view of the world we get from the national media.” He added, “I know people stop for car wrecks. But we stop for car wrecks precisely because they’re unusual. We shouldn’t do the same with bad news. Stop for it, but don’t assume that’s all of it.” To cite one piece of good news, interest rates are at 40-year lows, enabling people to refinance their home mortgages and save hundreds of dollars a month.
About a week ago, CBS News conducted a poll which found that Bush had a 64-percent approval rating. It also found that 54 percent have a favorable view of Republicans, up from 51 percent in November. That was higher than the favorable rating for Democrats. But the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather on January 7 didn’t mention any of that. Instead, Rather said the poll suggested that the Bush tax cut plan is a flop. Only 14 percent, he said, thought the first domestic priority should be a tax cut. “Here at home, growing concern about the economy,” said Dan Rather. “In a CBS News poll, 57 percent of Americans say it’s in bad shape, the highest number in a decade. Forty-six percent are telling Congress that fixing the economy is more important than a possible war with Iraq, even the overall war on terror. As for how to fix it, only 14 percent say cutting taxes should be Congress’s top priority. But that is what President Bush asked the new Congress to do as it convened today?”
What he didn’t disclose was that the poll found that 54 percent wanted Congress to concentrate on helping the unemployed and creating jobs. Bush, of course, presented his tax cut plan as a way to do just that. Bush said, “Too many of our citizens who want to work cannot find a job and many employers lack the confidence to invest and create new jobs.” So the 14 percent figure is misleading, perhaps deliberately so. Such a small figure was obtained only by telling people in the poll that creating jobs was a different option. It appears the poll was designed so that people like Dan Rather could make the claim that a tax cut was unpopular.
ABC World News Tonight anchorman Peter Jennings said the Bush tax cut would “cost the government” billions of dollars?”money which could be spent in other ways.” Notice the assumption that the money belongs to the government, rather than the people who earn it, and that the government has an inherent right to spend it. On the NBC Nightly News, anchor Tom Brokaw charged there was “nothing in his plan for the states, which are suffering terribly financially.” Notice the assumption that the federal government has an obligation to bail out those states which are in deficit because of overspending.
In reporting declining poll numbers, USA Today quoted Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg as saying that the drop was a “slap on the hand from the American people” about an economic plan “that Democrats say favors the rich.” Greenberg said, “If you offer that many billions of dollars in tax cuts and your numbers go down, it is hard not to read that as a no-confidence vote on the plan.” I read it as a reflection of the negative coverage of the plan.