Young voters account most for Bush's disapproval rating

February 10, 2001|By JENNIFER SKALKA, Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — Though 55 percent of young people approved of President Bush's job performance, they were more likely than all other groups to disapprove, according to a Gallup poll released Tuesday.

The new president's overall disapproval rating — 25 percent — was the highest initial disapproval mark that any president has received since Gallup began the poll more than 50 years ago. Disapproval was registered by one-third of those ages 18-29, 21 percent of the 30-to-49 age group, 25 percent of 50-to-64-year-olds and 27 percent of people 65 or older.

But Bush's overall approval score — 57 percent — was comparable to the 58 percent that former President Clinton received in his initial rating and was higher than the 51 percent recorded by Bush's father, former President George Bush, and Ronald Reagan.

The high negatives among youth may be explained by the administration's early initiatives, which included plans that endorsed school vouchers, federal funding for faith-based social service groups, and a large tax cut, according to Jane Rinzler Buckingham, 32, of Youth Intelligence, a group that specializes in marketing to generations "X" and "Y."


"If you think about that age group, they basically have only known Clinton," Buckingham said. "They're uncomfortable with any change, but part of the direction Bush is going in is against a young sensibility. It's very conservative."

John Dervin of Youth Vote 2000, a coalition that promoted the participation of young people in the 2000 campaign, said it was not Bush's conservatism that young people responded to negatively, but his focus on elementary education, his choice of political appointees and tax cuts. In 2000, young peoples' issues were not emphasized in the campaigns of both Bush and Democrat Al Gore, and Bush has done little, Dervin said, to break that trend.

"I wouldn't be surprised if young people had a more negative opinion of Gore if he had been elected president," Dervin said. "This was a fairly alienating campaign to young adults. They didn't see their issues (discussed). Whoever would have been elected president would have had their work cut out for them."

A White House spokesman said the president thinks it was important to address the issues the administration thinks young Americans care about such as Social Security and restoring a bipartisan and civil tone to Washington.

"I would refer you to the president's inaugural address," said White House aide Scott Stanzel. "He talked about his desire and effort and intention to be seen as the president of all Americans, whether they voted for him or not. He is committed to working hard to earn the respect of people of all ages."

The national poll, based on telephone interviews with 1,003 adults, also showed a gender gap in the assessment of Bush's job performance. Sixty-four percent of men and 50 percent of women approved of his early efforts, while 29 percent of women and 20 percent of men disapproved of how the president has handled his job.

To court young people and women, Bush needs to show he cares about their issues, such as the economy, protecting a woman's right to choose, and college education, Buckingham said.

"Bush is not someone who has ever reached out to young people to tell them they are important," she said. "Bush has to make himself more accessible. (He needs to say), ‘We are paying attention to 18-to-29-year-olds, not just 45-plus rich people.'"

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