This article originally appeared in the MONDAY, APRIL 29, 2002 Investor's Business Daily. Copyright 2002, Investor's Business Daily. All rights reserved.

Bush Slides In Public's Eye On Issues He's Toiled Over

President Bush's approval ratings are still high, but key agenda items show a worrisome weakness, says the latest IBD/ TIPP Poll.

Bush's overall job approval dropped 8 percentage points in three months - from 77% in January to 69% by mid-April. That much was expected, given the big boost he got after Sept 11.

Bush's biggest drops came on the issues that have topped his to-do list in recent months - foreign affairs, terrorism and education.

Americans giving Bush an A or B on his handling of foreign affairs dropped 12 percentage points from January to April - from 73% to 61%.

On fighting terrorism, his A's and B's dropped 10 percentage points - from 86% to 76%. On education, his A's and B's dropped 8 percentage points - from 60% to 52%.

On other issues - taxes, the budget, moral standards, the economy and the military - the drop was 5 percentage points or less.

Most Americans still approve of Bush's handling of most issues. The exceptions are the budget (43%),Social Security reform (31%) and Medicare reform (2896).

Some slippage was inevitable, says Raghavan Mayur, president of TIPP, a unit of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, which did the poll for IBD,

"Bush's ratings have been in the stratosphere, and there will be a slippage because of sheer gravity as the time goes. We are seeing this for the sixth consecutive month," he said.

Education Weakness
The slide on issues that Bush touches most can't be encouraging.

Bush was supposed to be the "education president" His campaign even stole the slogan of the Children's Defense Fund - "Leave No Child Behind."

In January, Bush signed a landmark $26 billion education bill. The bill nearly doubled federal spending on education. That won him kudos from Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.

"What a difference it has made this year with your leadership," Kennedy told Bush at a signing rally in Boston.

Friends, Foes
Since that rally, Bush has lost support on education from friends and foes.

Among those who approve of his overall performance, his A's and B's on education dropped 6 percentage points, from 68% to 62%.

Among those who disapprove of his overall performance, his D's and F's on education went up 6 percentage points, from 39% to 45%.

"Most people in his camp believe that school choice is the only thing that will improve education," said Elizabeth Moser, education analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Mich.

Moser faults Bush for letting Congress strip choice out of the education bill.

"He has alienated a lot of people in his camp by being quiet about it," she said. "The people who aren't in his camp have never liked him on the education issue because he has supported school choice, so he isn't getting much support from either side on the education issue."

Foreign affairs and the fight against terrorism gave Bush his highest approval ratings. But recent events have hurt him.

The speed at which the Taliban collapsed in Afghanistan fueled hopes for an easy victory in "Phase One" of the war, paving the way for an attack on Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

But events have left those hopes unfulfilled. Archterrorist Osama bin Laden is still unaccounted for. U.S. troops are still hunting alQaida forces in Afghanistan. The move on Saddam has been upstaged by renewed Israeli-Palestinian battles on the West Bank.

Bush has called on Israel to pull out, but it hasn't.

He keeps calling on the Palestinians to give up, but they haven't.

So naturally his approval ratings have suffered, says Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

"A president who, after 9-11, appeared to be fully in charge, driving events, is now being seen as someone not in charge, being driven by events. This is the antithesis of presidential leadership that Americans prefer to see," Sabato said.

Meanwhile, the economic recovery has faltered amid uncertainty about the war and Enron. The poll found that 56% think the middle East crisis could have a "significant negative impact" on the economy.

Bush's approval on foreign affairs has fallen most in the Midwest, historically the least interventionist region. There, his A's and B's on foreign affairs sank 17 percentage points, from 74% in January to 57% in April.

Foreign Affairs Slump
Bush foes have been quicker to abandon support for him. Among blacks, his A's and B's on foreign affairs plummeted 26 percentage points, from 60% to just 34%.

Only 47% of Democrats give Bush an A or B on foreign affairs. That's a drop of 13 percentage points. The same grades among independents dropped 11 percentage points, to 58%.

Republican approval is also off, but still quite strong. A total of 91% gave Bush an A or B in January; 82% did in April, a drop of only 9 percentage points.

For a brief period after 9-11, Americans were united and the president became the symbol of our unity," Sabato said. "As we cease to rally around the flag and the president, those most hostile to Bush's election are showing the greatest drop in support, just as they showed the most dramatic increase in support right after 9-11. The doubts they always had about Bush have naturally re-emerged."

The IBD/TIPP Poll surveyed 900 Americans between April 9 and 14.

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