Archive for Monday, February 23, 2004

Polls find voters angry with Bush

Emotion energizes Democrats

February 23, 2004


— In Arizona, Judy Donovan says she feels desperate for a new president. In Tennessee, Robert Wilson says he finds the president revolting. In Washington state, Maria Yurasek says she'd vote for a dog if it could beat President Bush.

A subtext to this year's presidential campaign is the intense anger that many Democrats are directing toward Bush, an attitude that has been growing in recent months.

"I've never seen anything like it," says Ted Jelen, a political science professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. "There are people who just really, really hate this person."

Fully a quarter of Americans -- mostly Democrats -- tell pollsters they have a very unfavorable opinion of the president, more than double the number from last April. When only Democrats are polled, more than half report they feel that way.

Further, in exit polls conducted during Democratic primaries, a sizable chunk of voters have been describing themselves as not just dissatisfied with Bush but outright angry -- 51 percent in Delaware, 46 percent in Arizona and New Hampshire, 44 percent in Virginia and Wisconsin.

"They really have a head of steam up against Bush," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. He said the level of political polarization surrounding Bush, the division between Republicans who favor him and Democrats who don't, exceeds even that for President Clinton in September 1998 during the impeachment battle.

Plenty of presidents have generated intense feelings, of course, but Democrats -- and even some Republicans -- think the phenomenon is outsized this year.

"I've never seen a Democratic Party more unified and more focused, and the anger helps do just that," said GOP pollster Frank Luntz. "The intensity level is just so high. They're using four-letter words to describe him."

In a recent focus group that Luntz conducted for MSNBC, technicians had to adjust the volume levels because the Bush-haters were "so gosh-darn loud" they were drowning out the president's supporters, who were more numerous, Luntz said. "It was a real problem."

Bush was asked about the anger in a recent interview on NBC and said he found it perplexing and disappointing. "When you ask hard things of people, it can create tensions. And heck, I don't know why people do it," he said.

His campaign spokesman, Terry Holt, dismisses the anger as something stoked by Democratic presidential candidates and confined to core party activists. He said it also reflects Democratic frustration at Bush's success in pushing through his agenda.

Some of the anger at Bush stretches back to his 2000 election, when the president lost the popular vote but took the majority of electoral votes after the Supreme Court stopped a recount in Florida.

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