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Transcript: Top Pollsters on 'FOX News Sunday'
Written by Chris Wallace / Published November 27, 2005 / Fox News Sunday
The following is a transcript from "FOX News Sunday" that aired on Nov. 27, 2005.
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: With President Bush's job approval ratings at the lowest since he took office, we want to go inside the numbers to analyze where this president is now.
For that we welcome two of America's top pollsters, Doug Schoen, who helped former President Clinton turn around his fortunes in 1996, and Whit Ayres, who has advised Senator Bill Frist and other top Republicans.
Gentlemen, welcome to both of you. Thank you for coming in.
POLLSTER WHIT AYRES: Good to be here.
WALLACE: First of all, no spin. We're just going to talk as professionals about these numbers, right?
POLLSTER DOUG SCHOEN: Absolutely.
WALLACE: OK. I want you both to imagine you're advising the same politician who's having problems, and let's start, if we can, with Mr. Bush's approval numbers, which you can see, according to the latest Gallup poll, are at 37 percent, the lowest of his presidency.
To put this in some historical perspective, he's in roughly the same shape as Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were at their low points, somewhat stronger than his father, Bush 41, was at his low point.
Mr. Ayres, let me start with you. No spin. How much trouble is this president in?
AYRES: I'm glad you put those other numbers up there, Chris, because what this shows is that every single president in the last half century has had job approval numbers in this level or lower. Nixon was at 24, Carter at 29, Ford at 37, in addition to the ones you showed, so that it is eminently predictable that a president at some point during their term is going to have job approval numbers here.
Some of them were able to turn it around. Reagan and Clinton were able to turn it around. A number of the others weren't. So the real critical question now is where he goes from here and how successful he is at turning those numbers around.
WALLACE: I guess the question I have for you, Doug, is to what degree do you feel voters have soured on this president?
SCHOEN: I think they have to a substantial degree. I think they have lost any sense of confidence in his personal credibility. I think they've sensed that he doesn't really share their values, a sense that he doesn't really have a domestic agenda and that the war in Iraq, obviously, has dragged him down and cost him substantial amount of his support on fighting the war on terror.
WALLACE: OK. Let's talk, because I think we all agree that the single biggest problem is the war in Iraq. And I want to put up some comparisons to Vietnam which we found surprising and interesting. Let's put those up on the screen.
The latest Gallup poll asks people whether it was a mistake to send troops to Iraq. They now say 54 percent say yes, 45 percent say no. Back in 1970, same question about Vietnam, 56 percent at that time said it was a mistake to send troops into Vietnam, 36 percent said no.
Whit, have the American people turned against this war?
AYRES: There's a lot of anxiety. There's a lot of angst. But comparisons to Vietnam are really an apples and oranges comparison. I don't think there were a lot of Americans who thought that if Ho Chi Minh took over South Vietnam that America would be directly threatened.
But if (Abu Musab) Zarqawi takes over Iraq, with its strategic position in the world and the resources it has at its command, I think you could make a pretty good case that Zarqawi would be a direct threat to the United States. So I really think the situation is different, despite the fact there are some surface similarity in the numbers.
WALLACE: Yes, let me ask you about that, Doug. I mean, it would seem to me that would lead you to think there would be more support in Iraq than there was in Vietnam in 1970.
But again, when we looked at the comparison between what people wanted — for instance, how many people wanted troops out within the next year — the numbers actually are stronger for wanting them out now than they were in wanting them out in Vietnam in 1970.
I mean, the '70 comparison surprised me, Doug, because we had twice as many troops in Vietnam then, over 300,000, as we have now. Two thousand people have died tragically in Iraq.
WALLACE: But 50,000 had died in Vietnam. Why has the impatience with this war built up so much faster?
SCHOEN: Well, I think it's a couple of things. I think, first, there's a sense that the rationale for going to war has been undermined, the sense that there was weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That, I think, is largely gone.
And I think that we live in an era now where there's, you know, 24-hour news cycles and people are having a sense that we are failing and that they don't understand why our troops are there and how it is connected to the war on terror.
AYRES: But, Chris, 19 percent of Americans want troops to be withdrawn immediately. That suggests that 81 percent of Americans think there's more work to be done.
Now, we can debate about how long that work should take, but we need to remember that fewer than one in five Americans want to just pull up and come home immediately. That suggests that there's a whole lot more feeling that we've got work left to do there.
WALLACE: Let's turn to another area which I think we would all agree should be a relative strong point for this president, and that is the economy. Unemployment numbers are low. The growth rate is relatively strong. Take a look at these numbers. Thirty-seven percent approve of the way the president is handling the economy. Sixty-one percent disapprove.
Doug, why isn't this president getting credit for an area in which I think even a Democrat would say he's doing pretty well?
SCHOEN: I think there are three issues. I think there's a crisis of affordability in America — energy costs, health care, paying for college — a sense that jobs are still being outsourced. We lost 30,000 jobs in Michigan this week.
So I think that there is a perception that people are having a tougher time paying their bills, notwithstanding some of the good economic news.
WALLACE: How do you explain it when, again — I mean, unemployment down around 5 percent. You know, I remember back in the '60s a full employment economy was 6 percent. How do you explain the fact that he's not getting credit for, I think by all standards, a very strong economy? And the energy prices, which everybody talked about — in fact, they've gone down.
AYRES: You're exactly right — 3.8 percent growth in the last quarter, and people think the economy is lousy. I think what Doug says is true, that people are concerned about outsourcing. Health care costs are a concern.
But I'm hopeful that eventually reality will come through in the perception and the perception will catch up with how good the economy actually is.
WALLACE: All right. So if you're advising this president — and remember, no spin here. I mean, if you're advising him, what does he need to do to turn things around?
Doug, you start.
SCHOEN: I think he's got to start governing from the center. I think he's got to cast aside the partisan rhetoric. I think he needs a bipartisan agenda to address our problems here at home. And he needs a plan for Iraq that strengthens their security apparatus in Iraq, strengthens democratic institutions, and fundamentally weakens the insurgency.
WALLACE: Well, I mean, that last part is easy to say. I mean, he would say that's what he's trying to do.
SCHOEN: I think the other thing is he needs some new blood in the White House. You put up the figures on Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan brought in a new team after Iran-Contra. I think the president would be well served to do the same thing.
WALLACE: Whit, what does he need to do? You know, he's got three years left. I mean, we can't have a lame duck for three more years.
WALLACE: So what does he need to do to restart his second term?
AYRES: Four things right now. We've got to have some good news out of Iraq. We've got to have good elections in December. And we're making progress toward that.
We've got to narrow this difference between the perception of the economy and the reality of the economy that you talked about.
We've got to have a smooth implementation of the Medicare prescription drug benefit so that six months from now — not today, but six months from now — seniors think it's a good program.
And we've got to make some progress on illegal immigration. There's a sense that the border is out of control and that there's no internal enforcement with employers, so we need progress on all four of those. That will help turn the numbers around.
WALLACE: All right. We're going to have to leave it there. We want to thank you both for coming in. We'll have you back in the new year to look at the poll numbers, which always change.
AYRES: Thanks. Good to be here.
SCHOEN: Thanks very much.
THIS SUNDAY: Chris will sit down for an exclusive interview with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).