The Wisconsin public has mixed reviews of President Bush's performance as he begins his second term, according to the first Badger Poll released since Bush's inauguration.
The poll, released Friday and conducted by the University of Wisconsin Survey Center, under the direction of G. Donald Ferree, Jr., indicates that the president draws strong support for his handling of terrorism, while eliciting less enthusiastic responses on the economy, foreign policy and the war in Iraq.
Bush received roughly as many excellent (16 percent) or good (33 percent) overall ratings as he did fair (26 percent) or poor (25 percent) ones. Responses reflected a strong partisan divide, with only one in eight Democrats giving Bush one of two higher ratings and one in seven Republicans giving him one of the two lower scores.
Bush enjoyed strong ratings on his handling of terrorism, with just over half of respondents giving him positive marks compared to 4 in 10 who gave negative scores.
When it came to the economy, domestic issues and foreign policies, the president had a more difficult time. In each of these three categories, Bush received negative ratings from slightly over 6 in 10 respondents against a 36 percent positive response for each.
Philip Seib, a professor of journalism, said the poll's results reflect "the doubts that many people retain about President Bush's ability to deal with the economy, Iraq and other matters." Seib added the president's numbers will climb "if he can accumulate some successes in domestic or foreign policy."
Bush's ratings on dealing with Iraq are comparable to his overall foreign policy numbers: 11 percent rated his handling excellent, 26 percent rated it good, 21 percent rated it fair and 38 rated it poor.
While 53 percent of respondents believed that weapons of mass destruction would have been used against the United States had the war not occurred, and more believed that the war would reduce the long-term threat of terrorism (37 percent) rather than increase such a threat (32 percent), fewer than one in four called the war predominately a success.
Only 2 percent of respondents called the war in Iraq a complete success. The 21 percent who called it mostly a success were matched by 22 percent who called it mostly a failure. One in 10 respondents called the war a complete failure. Forty-three percent called the war only a partial success.
Ferree said that Iraq "continues to be a major concern in Wisconsin as elsewhere" as Bush begins his second term.
He added that while public opinion is somewhat critical of the war, it is by no means "a rejection of the goals articulated by the White House." Sixty-one percent of respondents said threatening war to get possible weapons from Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do, and 55 percent said that the United States was right to enter into the war alone.
Bush's ratings have held relatively steady dating back through 2003, and the latest results do not buck the trend. The most tangible shift over the past two years has been in the "poor" category, which has grown from the 14 percent of respondents who selected it in January 2003 to the 25 percent at which it now stands.
Five-hundred-three randomly chosen Wisconsin residents were interviewed for the poll by telephone between Jan. 4 and 12. The poll's results have a margin of error of just over 4 percent. The poll is sponsored by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and The Capital Times in Madison.
This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on Feb. 3 2005.