Appearing on the September 16 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Wall Street Journal OpinionJournal.com editor James Taranto relied upon nonspecific poll data to claim that President Bush's job approval ratings are rebounding after the Hurricane Katrina disaster and that the Democratic response to President Bush's handling of the catastrophe has "backfired." It is unclear, however, to which polls Taranto was referring, as most polling shows Bush's approval ratings are in a steady, downward slide.
Without citing any specific polls, Taranto claimed that Bush's job approval ratings have risen recently, saying: "I think we've already seen the poll numbers start to bounce back." When co-host Alan Colmes asked Taranto, "Where are the poll numbers bouncing back?" Taranto obliquely replied: "I've seen some polls in which the approval rating is almost as high as the disapproval." Guest host and National Review editor Rich Lowry then admonished Colmes and suggested that the data Taranto referred to is posted on OpinionJournal.com, saying: "Read OpinionJournal.com, Alan. Come on."
But most polling available prior to September 16 shows that Bush's job approval ratings have steadily declined and, indeed, several polls show Bush's approval ratings at the lowest mark of his presidency. Among recent polls showing record-low approval ratings for Bush:
- ABC News/Washington Post, conducted September 8-11; 42 percent approve, 57 percent disapprove.
- NBC News/Wall Street Journal, conducted September 9-12; 40 percent approve, 57 percent disapprove.
- CBS News/New York Times, conducted September 9-13; 41 percent approve, 53 percent disapprove.
- Fox News/Opinion Dynamics, conducted September 13-14; 41 percent approve, 51 percent disapprove.
Even The Winston Group, a Republican polling outfit, put Bush's approval rating at 42 percent in an August 31-September 1 poll (subscription required) released September 15. All of these polls had margins of error of +/- 3 percentage points.
Taranto may have been referring to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted September 8-11, which showed a one-point increase in Bush's job approval ratings -- from 45 to 46 percent -- over a previous Gallup poll conducted August 28-30. This increase, however, fits well within the polls' margins of error (+/- 5 percent for the August 28-30 poll and +/- 3 percent, for the September 8-11 poll) and therefore is meaningless as a statistical matter. The September 8-11 poll also showed a 51 percent disapproval rating for Bush.
As for Lowry's suggestion that Taranto's poll data is available on OpinionJournal.com, a Media Matters for America search on OpinionJournal.com turned up no discussion of any polling information supporting Taranto's assertion.
From the September 16 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:
LOWRY: What's been amazing about this debate over the last couple of weeks is conservatives used to joke, you know, Bush haters are going to blame Bush for the weather, and the next thing, you know, and they've actually been doing it the last couple of weeks. And it's not as though conservatives, you know, jumped all over Bill Clinton and blamed him for the deaths in the heat wave in Chicago [in 1995]. It just seems as though this president is in a uniquely poisonous, partisan environment.
TARANTO: Well, I don't know about uniquely. I mean, the -- there was a pretty poisonous partisan environment with FDR was president, when Lincoln was president. You know, we go through these periods in American history. I will say I think that the behavior of the angry left when the hurricane first struck, and they saw an opportunity to beat up on Bush, it was really shameful. I mean, to some people in this country, Hurricane Katrina was this month's Cindy Sheehan, it was this month's excuse to pound President Bush. I argued --
LOWRY: Yeah, do you think that's going to backfire?
TARANTO: I think it already has backfired, and I argued all along that it was going to backfire. You know, I think that the hatred is so irrational of this president.
LOWRY: What are the signs that it's backfiring?
TARANTO: Well, I think we've already seen the poll numbers start to bounce back. I don't think we've seen any evidence that the Democrats have gained politically from this. Look at the [John] Roberts hearings. Now, that was mostly a matter of having a nominee who was just unbelievably poised up there answering these questions. But, you know, they tried to make Katrina an issue with John Roberts. You know, what is the chief justice of the Supreme Court supposed to do about hurricane victims? It's ridiculous.
COLMES: Where are the poll numbers bouncing back?
TARANTO: I've seen some polls in which the approval rating is almost as high as the disapproval.
LOWRY: Read OpinionJournal.com, Alan. Come on.
COLMES: I do read OpinionJournal.com. James, thanks for being with us.