Public rallying behind Bush, poll shows

But doubts held in ability to keep economy strong

March 14, 2001|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

President Bush has drawn encouraging reviews for his presidential debut, but Americans are increasingly nervous about the economy and express concerns about Bush's ability to steer the nation to sustained prosperity, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows.

After the most contentious election in the nation's history, many Americans have rallied behind their new president. His job approval rating is 60 percent, which is similar to that of his father, George Bush, and Bill Clinton in the opening months of their presidencies.

Even so, he is burdened by a perception that he is not fully in command. Half the public says that Bush is not really in charge of what is going on in his administration.

Another trouble spot for Bush is that there are deep and lingering resentments among black Americans toward his election. Although more than half of all Americans accept Bush as the legitimate president, three-quarters of black Americans do not.

On the immediate agenda, Bush should be encouraged that most Americans endorse his signature blueprint to cut taxes.

The public continues to see the Democrats as more able to lead on issues they care about, such as Social Security (46 percent, compared with 38 percent for the Republicans). On a smattering of issues, including missile defense, school vouchers and federal grants to religious organizations, many poll respondents were initially supportive of Bush's proposals but changed their minds when they were told more about them.

One reason the public may be supportive of Bush's tax cut plan is that the poll was taken in the flush of victory, just as the plan was being passed by the House of Representatives. The nationwide telephone poll of 1,105 adults was conducted March 8 through Monday. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Although the public favors a tax cut, and 57 percent prefer Bush's plan, many Americans seemed unaware of its particulars. Those polled were nearly as willing, at 49 percent, to sign off on a far less ambitious tax-cut plan proposed by the Democrats.

A worsening economy could become a particular thicket for Bush. Approval of his handling of the economy stands at 55 percent. But in a separate measure, only 34 percent say they have a lot of confidence in Bush's ability to keep the nation's economy strong; 36 percent have some confidence and 28 percent have little or none.

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