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RALLY LEADER: We have the power!
GWEN IFILL: The first large-scale abortion rights rally in 12 years drew hundreds of thousands of supporters from around the United States and 60 other nations. They gathered on the National Mall in Washington yesterday to champion reproductive rights, and also to voice their opposition to President Bush. New York senator and former first lady Hillary Clinton:
HILLARY CLINTON: Twelve years ago we had a march and that march helped to galvanize people across our country and we elected a pro- choice president. This year we’ve got to do the very same thing!
GWEN IFILL: Last year, President Bush signed a law prohibiting so-called partial-birth abortions, and he has stopped the government from funding international projects that help provide abortions. But march organizers said they hoped to move beyond the polarizing subject of abortion, to the broader issue of improving women’s access to reproductive health care overall.
WOMAN AT RALLY: I’m a teacher and I have students who don’t know about their reproductive choices, who don’t understand family planning, who don’t get sexual education like they should in school, and I’m here to support that, and I’m here to support a woman’s right to choose, because I believe it’s every woman’s right.
GWEN IFILL: Organizers included the Feminist Majority, Planned Parenthood, the National Organization for Women and the National Abortion Rights Action League. The well-known mingled with the unknown as the march moved past the White House to the National Mall and the U.S. Capitol. Smaller numbers of anti-abortion protesters also appeared along the route.
PROTESTER: It’s important for me to be here because I love babies — man, I love life, I love God, Jesus Christ.
GWEN IFILL: An antiabortion march earlier this year drew tens of thousands to protest 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. President Bush was not in Washington for yesterday’s march, but he did issue a statement. It read: “We should work to build a culture of life in America, we can all work together to reduce the number of abortions through promotion of abstinence-education programs, support for parental notification laws and continued support for banning partial-birth abortion.”
GWEN IFILL: Yesterday’s march demonstrated the strong sentiment that exists on one major political debate: abortion. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press finds those opinions have remained largely unchanged over the past two decades, with 36 percent in favor of further restrictions, and 58 percent opposed. But, new poll results released just today, show the public is more narrowly divided on other issues, major issues this political year.
Forty-two percent approve of the way President Bush is handling the economy, 51 percent disapprove; 44 percent approve of the way he is handling Iraq, while 48 percent disapprove. While, overall, 48 percent approve of the president’s job performance, 43 percent disapprove.
How do these numbers help us measure the election year political climate? For that, we turn to Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center. Welcome back. So, overall, let’s start with the overall ratings for the president. He is somewhat improved in the last month.
ANDREW KOHUT: Yes, surprisingly, this has not been a good month in his own words. I mean we’ve had a Shia revolt in Iraq and continuing problems in Fallujah. Yet the president’s approval ratings have gone up. We had him at 43 percent in the days after the Fallujah murders and mutilations, he’s back up to 48 percent and this reflects the pattern in many other polls. He’s doing better on his overall ratings and even better on the horse race, despite the fact that the public is quite critical of his management of Iraq.
GWEN IFILL: That’s one of the great puzzlements. If you look inside these numbers is there any explanation for why that is?
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, I think one of the explanations is a pretty traditional one, there’s a rally to the president at a time when American forces are beleaguered, they’re being attacked by Saddam loyalists, attacked by foreign fighters, maybe members of al-Qaida and the public sees this and they are rallying to the president, which is often the case when we have trouble overseas.
GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about Iraq specifically, which you found in the poll most people, 54 percent is the number, say that the president made the right decision, still believe that.
ANDREW KOHUT: Yes. The American public is hanging tough. The percentage was only slightly higher a month ago, and when we do the earlier poll it was really before the Shia revolt. And the percentage of people who say we shouldn’t keep our troops there remains at about 53 percent; it was lower a month ago, it was 50 percent. So there’s not much movement on these bottom line attitudes toward Iraq.
GWEN IFILL: In spite of your talking about the Shia revolt, the mutilations in Fallujah, all this other bad news, most people still think this is going well?
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, they don’t think it’s going well, but they don’t think we should withdraw, and they’re invested in their decision. One of the things that we found is that better educated people are no more likely to have favored the decision to go to war, but more informed people say well now that we’re here we’ve got to stay.
GWEN IFILL: We now see the deadline looming, this June 30 deadline for the political handover. Do most people think the president has a clear plan?
ANDREW KOHUT: Only about a third think that the president has a clear plan, which is not very good and most people disapprove of the way he’s handling Iraq. This is a center piece of Bush’s policy, and it’s in trouble, so far the public has kept with, stuck with him, even though they’re critical of the way he’s dealt with Iraq, but rallies. The other thing about rallies, they don’t go on forever.
GWEN IFILL: Speaking of the person who is hoping that the rally doesn’t go on forever, John Kerry, is there any evidence, if not in this poll in other polls, that people think that John Kerry could do a better job on Iraq?
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, the Fox poll had an even larger percentage of people saying that Kerry doesn’t have a clear plan for dealing with Iraq. But you would expect that a challenger wouldn’t have as much of a plan as the president. But I think the thing was for John Kerry is that all of this coverage of Iraq and focus on Iraq has taken the conversation away from jobs and domestic agenda, which are much more important, more of an issue for the Democrats than for the Republicans, there are more possibilities there.
GWEN IFILL: And I want to get to your findings on that in a moment; one more Iraq question though. You asked the question about Vietnam. Some members of Congress, some others have raised questions about whether this is another Vietnam, there’s some sort of low boil debate going on about that right now. What happens when you ask voters about that?
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, when you ask the voters, are you concerned that this might be another Vietnam, large percentages, almost 80 percent are concerned to some degree it might. But when you ask voters will it turn into another Vietnam, the public isn’t there yet. Fifty-five percent say no, this is probably going to work out, only 25 percent say it will. So the bottom line is there’s still some optimism, people aren’t willing to put the stamp of Vietnam on Iraq or Vietnam means failure.
GWEN IFILL: Is this divided on partisan lines?
ANDREW KOHUT: It is divided on partisan lines, but it’s not divided on generation lines. People who remember Vietnam don’t have much of a different view on this than people who have only a storybook recollection of Vietnam.
GWEN IFILL: But are the people we saw on the mall this weekend for instance marching against the president, in large part, are they likely to disagree with him on Iraq and disagree with him on the economy?
ANDREW KOHUT: Oh, absolutely, that’s what reflects the polarization. Another reason why these numbers aren’t moving, lots of people have made up their mind either pro or con on President Bush, and it’s going to take a lot to give real directionality to real change in the direction of attitudes.
GWEN IFILL: You mentioned a minute ago the economy. His disapproval rating of handling of the economy is slightly up. Why is that?
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, the economy continues to be a difficult thing for the American public. They hear news about the creation of new jobs, but still 57 percent say the job market in our local area isn’t very good. And it probably doesn’t reflect a spike in unemployment or concerns about unemployment per se, in fact unemployment is lower in this election than it was in ’84 when President Reagan was to go on and win successfully — 8 percent then, 5 1/2 percent now. But people are anxious about their jobs, they’re anxious about benefits, about getting promotions and they don’t think that the job market is all that robust.
GWEN IFILL: But looking at your numbers, I was puzzled about this. How is it that people can disapprove more of his handling, excuse me, his handling of the economy, but yet view the overall state of the economy slightly more positively?
ANDREW KOHUT: Only slightly though, it went from 31 to 38; 38 isn’t very good; 50 to 60 is good. And the American public is not there. It’s conceivable that down the road as we get closer to the election the public will come to have a better view of the economy, that would be helpful to Bush and harmful to the Democrats. But right now it’s a slightly improved evaluation, but certainly not a very positive one.
GWEN IFILL: Do people separate out different chunks of the economy differently, like job creation differently from other issues that helps them make up their minds on questions like this?
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, I think jobs is the most important indicator of the economy. Of course the stock market has gone up, the stock market went up from eight or nine thousand to over ten thousand, yet that hasn’t created some change in view of the state of the national economy, even though more Americans every year are involved in the stock market one way or another. Jobs is the better barometer this time.
GWEN IFILL: Okay. So you mentioned that the Democrats really would prefer for this debate, this is conventional wisdom but it’s also borne out in the polls, to be about economy and domestic issues rather than about the war or international issues. In this case, are people, do people rate John Kerry more highly on whether he would be able to handle the economy?
ANDREW KOHUT: Well certainly they did during a primary season. Kerry had a good advantage over Bush when the polls asked which could do a better job in handling the economy. But now it’s come closer, I mean, Kerry has been sort of out of the picture for people, certainly out of the picture compared to where he was in March when he was, had all the limelight. And a lot of these polls are comparing attitudes toward Kerry versus Bush now, versus at a time when Kerry was getting a big bounce being a big victor of the Democratic nomination.
GWEN IFILL: So we’ll be watching as everything evolves over the summer. Thank you very much, as usual, Andy Kohut.
ANDREW KOHUT: You’re welcome, Gwen.