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Poll Analysis: Bush’s First 100 Days

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As George W. Bush finishes his first 100 days in office, the American public gives him a thumbs up for the way he is handling his job and the economy.

Times Poll Director
     As George W. Bush finishes his first 100 days in office, the American public gives him a thumbs up in the way he is handling his job and the economy, but are less enthusiastic about his handling of the nation's environmental issues, according to a new Los Angeles Times poll.
      Nearly 3 out five Americans approve of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president, 33% disapprove and 10% are undecided. Californians give the president a decent grade, but not as high as the rest of the country. More than half of Californians (54%) think Bush is handling his job well, 32% disapprove. In comparison, 64% of Midwesterners, 63% of Westerners and 55% of Southerners approve of Bush's job performance. However, Easterners' support is tepid 47% approve, while 43% disapprove. His job rating is similar to past presidents at this juncture of their presidencies. Bill Clinton had a 55% job rating and 58% for George H.W. Bush. Ronald Reagan had a stronger showing at 67%, but that was after an assassination attempt on his life. Nationally, men and women feel the same way about Bush and give him high marks so far in his presidency, compared to California where there is a gender gap. There is also an income gap in California, but not nationally.

  Nation   California  
Approve Disapprove Approve Disapprove
Men 54% 39% 63% 29%
Women 59% 27% 45% 36%
Moderates 56% 32% 49% 40%
Less than $40K 56% 33% 44% 37%
$40K/More 57% 33% 58% 33%

     The public also approves of the way Bush is handling the nation's economy (52% approve, 32% disapprove and 16% are not sure). However, less than half of Californians (48%) approve of Bush's handling the economy, as do 47% of those living on the East Coast. The other regions of the country give Bush solid marks in this category.
However, he doesn't fare well when it comes to handling the environment. The country is virtually split about his job performance in this category 41% approve, while another 38% disapprove, 21% are not sure. But regionally, there are distinctions. Easterners are not happy with Bush's environmental stance: 29% approve and 52% disapprove. The Pacific states specifically, are more disapproving of the president's stance on the environment than the Midwest, South and the Mountain states.

• Easterners -- 29% approve of the way Bush is handling his job on the environment; 52% disapprove
• Midwesterners -- 45% approve, 33% disapprove
• Southerners -- 46% approve, 35% disapprove
• Westerners -- 43% approve, 33% disapprove
• Oregon -- 41% approve, 46% disapprove
• California -- 33% approve, 42% disapprove
• Washington -- 33% approve, 49% disapprove
• Alaska and the Mountain States give Bush solid marks for his environmental performance.
• Alaska -- 55% approve, 27% disapprove
• Mountain States -- 43% approve, 33% disapprove

Bush and the Environment
      The American public today is more aware and concerned about the environment than they have been in several years. With the environment in the news almost daily and the Bush administration's philosophy on the environment 180 degrees turned around from the former president's, Bush comes up short with the American people on his environmental stance and is possibly a vulnerability to his presidency. He is not seen as environmentally friendly, especially with his appointment of Gale Norton as Interior Secretary, and his first orders of business to either reverse or put a hold on some of former President Clinton's environmental regulations.
     In this poll, 13% of the nation's public mentioned environment as the most important problem facing our country today (the third top mentioned problem after economy at 27% and education and crime each at 15%). In a Times poll taken last month, only 3% cited the environment as a problem and in January 1998, only 2% gave that as a response. Surprisingly, only 7% in California mentioned the environment as an important issue. However energy issues are more important for Californians (19% mention some form of energy, such as deregulation, gas, utility costs), while it was only mentioned by 9%, nationally.
     Although environment, overall, has become more of an issue, the American public doesn't believe that environmental issues should be the top priority of the Bush administration, instead it should be one of the most important issues to be addressed. About one in seven Americans say it should be a top priority, but a hefty 73% say it should be an important issue, but not the top priority. Only 10% say the environment is not an important issue.
     Another vulnerability for Bush on the environment is the perception by the American people that he cares more about the needs of business over the environment than the other way around. And he is also seen as one who will do little in protecting the environment. Knowing the negative press the president is getting on his environmental decisions, the Bush administration has upheld some of Clinton's environmental regulations, including a rule that increases protection of wetlands and another that greatly expands the list of businesses that must tell the public details of their emissions of lead into the air, soil and water. Even with this pro-environmental stance, the public still believes he is upholding these regulations not because of his concern for the environment, but for purely political reasons.

Business Over Environment
  National California
Business 58% 69%
Environment 13 9
Both Equally 10 7
Don't Know 19 15

Bush
Protect the Environment
  National California
Too Much 1% 2%
Too Little 41 48
Right Amount 36 33
Don't Know 22 17

Upheld Some Clinton Regulations:
Concerned about Environment/Political Reasons
  National California
Concerned about Environment 22% 21%
Political Reasons 54 63
Both (volunteered) 9 3
Don't Know 15 13

     About half of all Americans are concerned that Bush will go too far in allowing development and exploration of natural resources in wilderness land. In the Pacific region, 55% of Californians, 52% of Oregonians and 57% of Washingtonians are concerned that Bush will go too far, while 54% of Alaskans express little or no concern. People residing in the Mountain states are divided over this, 48%--44%. Also Easterners, are more concerned than their regional counterparts. Almost two thirds of Easterners are concerned about Bush's proclivity toward business and development and exploration in the country's wilderness lands. The other regions of the country are more ambivalent about this.
     One of Bush's campaign themes was to explore the possibility of opening up Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling. The president and his administration say the country needs to do whatever it can to expand oil supplies. However, opponents say it would damage the environment in an unspoiled part of the country. Fifty-five percent of respondents are opposed to opening up this wildlife refuge for drilling even if it would supply enough oil to fuel U.S. consumption for between six months and three years. A third would approve of this idea. (Alaskans approve of this overwhelmingly 65%).

Right Direction/Wrong Track
     The Poll also found that as the nation worries about the economy, the falling stock market and job layoffs around the country, it has affected how people view the country. Americans are divided over whether they think the country is heading in the right direction or seriously off on the wrong track. Forty-four percent are saying that the country is moving in the right direction, but 43% say the country is seriously off on the wrong track. Optimism about the country's direction has dwindled since the question was asked in a Times poll taken last month. About half said the country was going in the right direction and 40% thought it was off on the wrong track. The respondents living in the western region of the country were more satisfied with the country's direction than those living elsewhere in the nation. Southerners, however, are feeling very pessimistic about the country. Californians were slightly optimistic 46%-40%.

  East Midwest South West
Right Direction 46% 45% 35% 55%
Wrong Track 40 43 58 24

How the Poll Was Conducted
      The Times Poll contacted 813 adults nationwide by telephone April 21-26. In addition, separate samples of 512 Californians and 322 Alaskans were contacted. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the nation, California and Alaska. Random-digit dialing techniques were used so that listed and unlisted numbers could be contacted. The entire sample was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education and region. The margin of sampling error for the national sample is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, for California it is 4 points and for Alaska it is 5.5 points. For certain subgroups the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results can also be affected by other factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented.

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