Bush Success Rating at Historic Low
By CQ StaffTue Sep 4, 10:25 AM ET
By Bart Jansen, CQ Staff
President Bush’s success rating in the Democratic-controlled House has fallen this year to a half-century low, and he prevailed on only 14 percent of the 76 roll call votes on which he took a clear position.
The previous low for any president was in 1995, when Bill Clinton won just 26 percent of the time during the first year after Republicans took control of the House. If Bush’s score holds through the end of the year, he will have the lowest success rating in either chamber for any president since Congressional Quarterly began analyzing votes in 1953.
A study of House and Senate floor votes, compiled by CQ over the August recess, also showed that House Democrats have backed Bush’s legislative positions this year only 6 percent of the time, making for the strongest opposition from either party against a president in the 54 years CQ has kept score.
• CQ Party Unity Scores | Presidential Support Scores
A separate analysis of so-called party unity votes, in which a majority of one party votes against a majority of the other, showed the possibility of another historic first for House Democrats. So far this year, Democrats have backed the majority position of their caucus 91 percent of the time on average on such votes. That marks the highest Democratic unity score in 51 years.
Although any president can count on a certain amount of discontent from the opposing party — especially one that controls Congress — Bush’s low success rating and his low support scores among House Democrats are a direct result of disagreements with him over the Iraq War and spending priorities, according to a review of votes.
By comparison, House Democrats supported President Richard Nixon 46 percent of the time in 1974, the year he resigned. Nixon prevailed on votes 68 percent of the time that year, despite the Watergate fallout. And House Republican support for President Lyndon B. Johnson stood at 51 percent in 1968, during the height of the Vietnam War. Johnson succeeded 84 percent of the time on votes that year.
Bush has fared better in the Senate this year than in the House, though his success rate also has declined there. He was successful on 40 of 55 Senate votes on which he took a clear position. His success score of 72 percent is still the lowest since Bush took office. Clinton’s Senate success rates under GOP control were lower than Bush’s every year, and his 42 percent score in 1999 was the lowest since 1953.
Of the Senate votes so far this year on which Bush took a position, 22 were on nominations. He was successful on all of them, which helped elevate his score considerably.
But it was the high-profile conflicts over Bush’s Iraq policy, which played out in both chambers on individual bills and on amendments to the fiscal 2008 defense authorization (HR 1585) and the fiscal 2008 Defense appropriations (HR 3222) bills, that dragged his scores down. All the appropriations bills were flash points, and Bush has threatened to veto nine of the 12 annual spending bills passed by the House.
Some of the policy disputes that divided the parties — and pitted congressional Democrats against the president — included bills for expanding embryonic stem cell research (HR 3), negotiating Medicare drug prices (HR 4) and enhancing punishments for hate crimes (HR 1592). Differences over proposed cuts in subsidies for student lenders (HR 2669), a five-year farm programs reauthorization (HR 2419) and children’s health coverage (HR 3162) also affected the scores.
Bush’s flagging success resulted partially from Republicans parting company with him. House Republicans have supported Bush on the floor an average of 74 percent of the time this year, while Senate Republicans have supported him 81 percent of the time. Both scores are the lowest of his presidency.
Similarly, Republicans have been less unified than in the recent past on votes that feature a majority of one party facing off against a majority of the other. In the House so far this year, 526 of the 839 roll call votes have met that definition. The same is true for the Senate, where the parties have divided on 193 votes out of 310 cast.
House Republican unity this year has ebbed to 85 percent, and Senate GOP unity slumped to 81 percent. Both averages are the lowest since 1994.
That has come as the majority Democrats became more unified. The average House Democratic unity score of 91 percent matches the high-water mark that Republicans scored three times: in 1995, 2001 and 2003.
The average Senate Democratic unity score so far this year is similarly high at 88 percent, almost reaching the party’s peak score of 89 percent posted twice: in 1999 and 2001.
This story originally appeared in CQ Today.