Barna

Feb 25, 2002

From the Archives

Bush Scores Well With Born Agains, But Poorly With Blacks

A new survey released by the Barna Research Group shows that President George W. Bush continues to have a favorable image among most segments of the population. At the extremes are born again Christians and African-Americans: the former are deeply supportive of the President while the latter emerge as his harshest critics. The study examined 18 measures related to the President and his performance in the White House and found that the groups consistently giving him low evaluations were blacks, atheists, liberals and Democrats. His biggest enthusiasts were people 55 or older, whites, born again Christians, conservatives and Republicans.

Job Performance

Four out of five adults (79%) currently approve of the way Mr. Bush is handling his job. Overall, half of all adults said they approve strongly and three out of ten approve somewhat. The highest approval ratings came from people 55 or older (85%), whites (84%), born again Christians (86%), and Republicans (96%). In contrast, blacks (59%), atheists (66%), and Democrats (70%) gave the president his lowest approval marks. Amazingly, a majority of the adults within all five dozen of the population segments whose answers were analyzed indicated their approval of Mr. Bush’s performance to date.

Survey respondents were also asked to rate the President’s handling of the terrorist attacks and subsequent war against terrorism. Again, four out of five adults (82%) said he is doing either an “excellent” or “good” job. The people most likely to give such positive feedback included people 55 or older (88%), whites (87%), born again Christians (88%), and Republicans (95%). The least favorable reactions again were from blacks (59%), atheists (67%) and Democrats (75%). Once again, a majority of every subgroup gave the President above-average evaluations.

Personal Characteristics and Qualities

Three out of four adults (75%) have a favorable opinion of George W. Bush as a person. The same pattern emerged: older adults, whites, born again Christians and Republicans were most enthusiastic about the President as a person, while blacks, atheists and Democrats were least approving of him.

The survey asked people to rate Mr. Bush on 13 personal qualities that related to his leadership skills, his intellect and his character. The Texan was given the highest average ratings concerning his skills and the lowest ratings regarding his character. However, the average scores in all three areas were similar, and a majority of Americans gave him an overall positive assessment in all 3 areas.

Respondents considered five skill areas. There was little variation across the five skills, ranging from six out of ten to seven out of ten adults saying that the descriptions posed as either “completely” or “mostly” characterized Mr. Bush. Seven out of ten said he “works hard” (70%), followed by two-thirds who described him as “an effective leader” (65%), and slightly fewer who said “he gets the important things done” (63%), “works well with other people” (62%) and “communicates effectively” (60%).

There were three variables tested related to his intellect. Two out of three people said the phrase “smart enough for the job” was “completely” or “mostly” true of him (65%). Almost as many said he “uses good judgment” (62%). One of his lowest evaluations was regarding having “real vision for the future of the United States.” Slightly more than half of adults (55%) concurred with that depiction.

People were divided in their assessment of Mr. Bush’s character. A large majority (70%) said he is “tough enough for the job” and nearly as many described him as “fair” (63%). Somewhat fewer people felt he is “trustworthy” (59%). Only half of the adult population contends that he “cares about the needs of people like you.” His lowest rating concerned values; just four out of ten people said he “has the same values” as they do (43%).

Once again, the most ardent supporters were older adults, whites, born again Christians, Republicans and conservatives, and the least supportive were blacks, atheists and Democrats. Another group that emerged as less enthusiastic about Mr. Bush’s attributes were individuals associated with a non-Christian faith. (The latter group was comprised largely of Jews, Mormons and people affiliated with eastern faiths such as Buddhism. Muslims represented less than 10% of that segment.)

Re-Election Prospects

With the 2002 mid-term election rapidly approaching, the survey discovered that while most Americans like George W. Bush and are satisfied with his performance to date, he is far from a re-election shoe-in and has had limited influence on people’s willingness to support the Republican Congressional candidate from their area.

When asked how they would vote of the election for President were held today, one-third of adults (32%) said they would “definitely” vote for Mr. Bush, with another one out of four (25%) stating that they would “probably” vote for him. Overall, just 15% said they would “definitely not” cast their ballot in his favor and 9% indicated they would “probably not” do so. The remaining two out of ten adults said it would depend upon his opponent or that they simply did not know how they would vote. Mr. Bush attracted at least four out of ten “definite” voters from among those 55 and older, whites, born again Christians, conservatives and Republicans. However, those who would “definitely” vote for him included less than one out of ten black adults and less than two out of ten atheists, people affiliated with non-Christian faiths, and Democrats.

As for Mr. Bush’s influence on Congressional races, slightly less than one out of four adults said that the president’s performance would cause them to be more likely to vote for their local Republican candidates, while 15% said Mr. Bush’s efforts to date would cause them to be less likely to support the local Republican candidate for the House. A majority of adults (62%) either stated that his work would not influence their vote or that they did not know if it would.

However, when evaluated in terms of party registration, the figures indicate that the chief executive has effectively reinforced the partisan inclinations of Republicans (half said his performance has made them more likely to support the local Republican while just 2% said it has made them less likely to do so) while picking up limited support among Democrats and independents. Overall, 12% of Democrats and 13% of Independents said they were more likely to vote for the local Republican House candidate while 24% of the Democrats and 9% of independents said they were less likely to do so.

Changes Since 2000

Barna surveys conducted during the historic presidential election of 2000 showed that Mr. Bush was greatly favored over Mr. Gore on the basis of his character, his moral leadership and his potential to use the military appropriately. The pre-election surveys also noted that Mr. Bush was seen by millions of voters as lacking the necessary level of intelligence and having an unappealing position on Social security. Things have changed significantly since the election. A substantial majority now views him as “smart enough for the job” and one of his most prolific bases of support are older adults – the same ones who voted for Al Gore by a large margin partially because they disapproved of the Bush plan for handling Social Security. The president’s character, one of his strong suits during the campaign, is no longer perceived to be his dominant strength. While people’s approval of his character has not diminished, the emergence of his leadership skills and intellect has escalated as perceived strong suits.

During the 2000 election, Barna surveys also estimated that Mr. Bush won 57% of the born again vote. That significantly eclipsed the 49% that Republican Bob Dole earned in 1996. If the election were to be held today, Mr. Bush would likely receive nearly two-thirds of the born again vote. The gains within the born again community, which is currently 45% registered Republicans and 40% registered Democrats, is largely attributable to gains in support among women, people in their twenties, fifties and sixties, and non-whites.

Surveys conducted during the past two years also show a high level of consistency in people’s party identification and their ideological leanings. Party registration has remained at essentially the same levels since January 2000. Presently, one-third of registered voters are aligned with the Republican Party (34%), almost half are associated with the Democratic Party (45%) and about one-fifth are independent (18%), with a handful of voters registered with alternative parties. Ideologically, half of the voting public consider themselves to be somewhere between the conservative and liberal ends of the spectrum. Although conservatives continue to outnumber liberals nearly 2-to-1 (28% versus 16%, respectively) there has been slight erosion of the conservative base, slipping from 31% throughout most of 2000 to its current 28% standing, while liberals have increased from 12% to 16% during the past two years.

The Public Remains Aloof

The attitude of the public toward the President surprised George Barna, who directed the research. “Mr. Bush received excellent ratings in terms of his overall job performance, his handling of the attack and war, and related to how voters respond to him as a person. Yet, many people remain strangely aloof toward him. This is partially because the next presidential election is still more than two years away and because many are waiting to see what happens with the economy. Most important, though, is that we are witnessing a process of healing and acceptance. The terrorist attacks and related hostilities have caused many Americans to forget just how divisive the 2000 election was. In that context, there has been a significant softening of people’s opposition to Mr. Bush. Another two years of strong and effective leadership would likely motivate a growing number of people who were dubious of his capabilities or philosophy of governance to support him in 2004.”

Barna also discussed the growing support for Mr. Bush among born again Christians. “The public’s current ambiguity toward the president’s re-election prospects makes his growing support from the born again community particularly noteworthy. The born again segment generally has been pleased with Mr. Bush’s moral as well as political leadership. If things continue in the same vein over the next two years, the president will increase his margin of victory among born agains. That is a significant gain. Our election surveys in 2000 showed that Mr. Bush defeated Mr. Gore by about 7 million votes among the born again constituency.”

Survey Methodology

The data described above are from telephone interviews during late January and early February with a nationwide random sample of 1006 adults, among whom 742 were registered to vote. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level, and ±4 points for the subgroup of registered voters. All of the interviews were conducted from the Barna Research Group telephone interviewing facility in Ventura, CA. Adults in the 48 continental states were eligible to be interviewed and the distribution coincided with the geographic dispersion of the U.S. adult population. Multiple callbacks were used to increase the probability of including a reliable distribution of adults.

“Born again Christians” were defined in these surveys as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”

The Barna Research Group, Ltd. is an independent marketing research company located in southern California. Since 1984, it has been studying cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. This research was funded solely by Barna Research as part of its regular tracking of attitudes, values and behavior.

If you would like to receive a bi-weekly update on the latest research findings from the Barna Research Group, you may subscribe to this free service by typing your e-mail address in the field above located at the top of this page on the left-hand side.

Survey Results

I’m going to read a list of personal characteristics and qualities. After each one, please tell me how accurately you think that trait describes George W. Bush: completely, mostly, somewhat, not too, or not at all accurately. If you are not sure, just let me know. The (first/next) quality is (READ DESCRIPTION). How accurate is that as a description of George W. Bush: completely, mostly, somewhat, not too, or not at all accurate? DATA SHOW COMBINED “COMPLETELY” AND “MOSTLY”

 
All
Buster
Boomer
Elders
white
black
Hispanic
born-again Christians
tough enough for the job
70%
68%
71%
73%
78%
38%
66%
76%
works hard
70
71
69
72
76
41
69
76
smart enough for the job
65
62
65
70
69
44
69
76
an effective leader
65
61
67
70
72
37
59
73
gets the important things done
63
60
65
65
69
35
59
70
fair
63
62
60
70
70
36
60
71
uses good judgment
62
61
61
68
69
34
62
70
works well with people
62
61
61
65
67
40
64
67
communicates effectively
60
60
57
63
64
39
60
68
trustworthy
59
53
58
70
67
31
49
69
has a real vision for the future of the U.S.
55
54
53
61
60
30
58
62
cares about the needs of people like you
50
50
47
55
56
24
50
59
has the same values as you
43
38
43
53
48
20
43
55

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About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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