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The Brand

December 23, 2008

FedBlog links to a Pew Research Center report on public opinion during the Bush administration. The graphic below illustrates Bush’s steadily declining popularity – a characteristic not only of this administration, but of what political scientists Paul Brace and Barbara Hinckley (1992) term the “decay curve” in presidential popularity. With a handful of exceptions, presidents have suffered steadily declining support – particularly during their second terms as this graphic by political scientist Charles Franklin illustrates. 

Perhaps more consequential is the Pew report’s observation that the Bush administration has presided over a steady decline in public attitudes about the federal government. The report notes:

What might have damaged Bush’s legacy most was his administration’s mixed record of competent governance. Between Iraq, the government’s flawed relief effort in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and more minor missteps over the Dubai ports issue and other matters, the government “brand” deteriorated badly during the Bush years. In late April 2008, just 37% expressed a favorable view of the federal government, about half of the percentage of five years earlier (73%).

Here’s the graphic:

By beginning the trendline in 2002, however, this graphic presents a misleading picture. Here is a similar graphic from a 2005 Pew report, which takes the time series back to 1997 when govenment when public favorability towards the federal government was 37%. Whatever the influence of the Bush administration on public attitudes about government, after the 9/11 attacks trust in government clearly surged then declined. It strikes me as a little misleading to argue from these data, as the Pew report does, that “the government ‘brand’ deteriorated badly during the Bush years.”

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