Myths and Legends
1. That past presidents have recovered from similar low polls.On point 1, it seems a little like the question, "Is the glass half full or half empty?" to me. Bowers references Roper Center's excellent list of all polls for all presidents to show that Bush is in more trouble in the polls than any President who has recovered. According to that list, Truman recovered from a lower approval rating than Bush (33% in Sept 1946), but didn't recover from a higher disapproval (67% in Jan 1952). Disapprovals are important, especially for midterm Congressional elections. But the approval rating shows how much support the President has. 34% is horrible, but President Truman recovered from worse. And Clinton and Reagan both recovered from nearly that bad. Sure there are differences in their specific situations. There always are. But I think if voters are allowed to vent enough on Republicans in Congress in 2006, and give Democrats control of Congress, Bush can probably still recover afterward.
2. That Republicans and Democrats are equally responsible for the polarization of politics.
3. That voters have abandoned Republicans, but have not yet embraced Democrats.
On point 2, I absolutely agree with Bowers. Polarization and base turnout was the explicit strategy of Bush in 2004, and the implicit strategy of Gingrich and the Republicans in 1994. Republican activitists, their rank and file folks, are further from the center than the party as a whole and pull the party to the right. Democratic activists, on the other hand, are closer to the center than the party as a whole and serve as a moderating influence. And independents views on just about everything track very closely with Democrats, who actually try and win their votes by appealing to them.
On point 3, I'd like to agree but I fear the jury may still be out. Bowers relies on the internals of only one poll to show who it is that is upset with Democratic leaders. His point is basically that independents and moderate Republicans look on Democrats more favorably, but the Democratic rank and file is unhappy. But they clearly do not intend to vote for Republicans or stay home, as one can see from generic ballot questions on a variety of polls and the results of the 2005 elections. I'd like to see more information before I make up my mind, but I'd love to believe it. I'll keep an open mind on this one.