Favorability of George W. Bush: The Difference that Eight Years Make
William J. Miller
In this paper, American National Election Study data from 2000, 2004, and 2008 will be utilized to
examine individual‐level determinants of favorability of George W. Bush. Beginning with a basic tracing
of approval ratings for Bush at the time of each study, we will advance to running numerous regression
analyses examining which factors ultimately prove to be the most poignant in shaping public opinion
towards the former president. Further, by examining all three time periods cross‐sectionally, we will be
able to determine if there was a change through time of what issues and categories of variables proved
to be most predictive. The usefulness of this paper will be to determine what factors led to individuals
approving highly of Bush in the beginning of his first term (prior to 9/11), what factors helped lead to his
reelection, and what factors led to his low ratings as he left office. While typical assumptions such as
party identification and feelings towards foreign conflict will be examined, we will also delve deeper into
the data to examine more individual‐level trends to see why differing individuals felt the way they did
about the president.
David Gergen assessed the Bush leadership style by relating it to a W.H.D. Koerner painting
entitled “A Charge to Keep” which hangs in the Oval Office. Bush describes the painting as a “horseman
determinedly charging up what appears to be a steep and through trail. This is us” (Gergen 2003).
Those who agree with Bush’s leadership theory see a “brave, daring leader riding fearlessly into the
unknown, striking out against unseen enemies, pulling his team behind him” (Gergen 2003). On the
other side of the coin, critics see “a lone, arrogant cowboy plunging recklessly ahead, paying little heed
to danger, looking neither left nor right, listening to no voice other than his own” (Gergen 2003).
Gergen’s use of the picture as the governing metaphor of Bush’s leadership style ultimately proves to be
more useful than even he may have imagined. Views on Bush’s leadership have distinctly separated
scholars and Americans alike. What is exemplary and groundbreaking to one appears to be draconian
and risky to another. Many individuals agree on how Bush leads; where they fundamentally differ is on
how they frame these actions.
Most commentators agree that Bush is big on delegating, that he runs a tight ship, that he likes
to decide quickly while not looking back, that he favors a short agenda of big things over a long agenda
of small items, and that he is willing to push big, controversial policies before they have broad support
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(Gilbert 2003). To Bush, unquestionably, “the decision is the central presidential act” (Kettl 2003, 185).
Decisions are a critical part of a president’s job; and their quality typically plays a large role in
determining a president’s legacy (Rudalevige 2008). Where commentators have failed to reach
agreement, however, is on the merits of such an approach to leadership. The Bush style has largely
been assumed to either reap big rewards or cause large problems. The particular approach to each
topic mentioned above ultimately determines its potential for success. Delegation can be wise when
intelligent individuals who have the freedom to do what is necessary are planning a policy or disastrous
when unqualified individuals take charge of national policies. Tight ships can be well‐oiled machines,
unless a leader micromanages to an extent that nothing gets accomplished. Quick decisions can lead to
decisive, sound policies as long as the leader did not overly‐satisfice when gathering background
information. Short agendas can benefit policy as long as important issues are not neglected merely
because of their sheer volume. Lastly, leaders can push policies that lack popular support as long as
they are eventually willing to admit defeat if the policy flops during implementation. Whether Bush’s
approach has been a positive or negative in this regard remains largely debated.
The Bush leadership style at its most fundamental roots combines a low need for personal
control and involvement with the policy process with a low general sensitivity to context and a limited
need for vast amounts of information when making decisions (Preston and Hermann 2004). Bush tends
to delegate, express confidence, and ignore details. He has been labeled a “CEO President” by some and
an “MBA President” by others. Such an image involves “a smartly dressed executive who lives by
synchronized watch and day planner, who delegates tasks where appropriate, and who works out
regularly, eats right and gets plenty of bed rest” (Oliphant 2003). His entire “pedigree conotates
privilege—Andover, Yale, Harvard—yet his manners are decidedly populist” (Pike and Maltese 2008,
186). Scholars have suggested that his administration suffers from “groupthink” and that he serves as
his own “yes man.” He is seen as delegating powers, expressing confidence, and happily ignoring
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details. He has “gathered a small circle of trusted advisers, listens to brief debates and then offers swift,
gut‐based solutions to problems” (Allen and Broder 2004). On a personal level, he is “gregarious,
unpretentious, persistent, and highly adaptable…his interpersonal skills are outstanding” (Pika and
Maltese 2008, 185). Clearly, opinions are mixed.
In this paper, I seek to test alternative hypotheses as to what ultimately decided how individual
voters viewed George W. Bush. Utilizing data from the American National Election Studies conducted in
2000, 2004, and 2008, I seek to examine what strand of predictors worked in shaping favorability.
Explanatory strands consist of: the feelings Bush makes respondents feel, past economic performance
and future beliefs, perception of character traits of Bush, spending tendencies, and demographic
information (including party identification). This examination is undertaken with hopes of determining
whether favorability indicators remained constant over the course of Bush’s two terms or varied in
nature and significance. Such a theory attempts to modify the classical recursive of voting behavior in
America, as presented by Whiteley (1988).
This model suggests party identification influences both issue views and candidate evaluations, which
independently come together to determine vote choice. In this paper, we instead focus on determining
whether arrows exist between partisanship, issues, and candidate evaluations, without focusing on the
II. Review of the Literature
Since the National Election Study began utilizing feeling thermometers in 1964, scholars have
never witnessed a more polarized election than that of 2004 (Kimball and Gross 2007). Voter approval
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depends on a panoply of influences—varying attitudes and emotions, issues, and attributes alike (Miller
and Shanks 1996). As someone has said, everybody is an amateur political scientist, and every political
scientist is an amateur voting specialist. Almost all political scientists vote—and think they know
something about what happens in the process of candidate evaluation (Pomper 1978‐1979, 619). The
body of research on different variables that affect favorability is vast. It appears at a quick glance that
every variable seems to have at least twenty respected articles devoted to it. However, one work has
traditionally stood out over time. Angus Campbell, et. al’s The American Voter has long been regarded
as the benchmark in voter behavior studies. Not only does it provide valuable information, but it set the
way for future studies of voting behavior. This work rejected the “tradition of armchair speculation on
voting which could be traced back at least to Plato’s comments about the misguided actions of an
inexpert population” (Pomper 1978‐1979, 619). Rather than speculation, the book based itself on actual
scientific hypotheses. Further, The American Voter rejects the sociological interpretation of voting. No
longer would we believe, like Lazarsfeld (1948, 27), that “a person thinks, politically, as he is socially.”
Instead, we would now examine the politically relevant in surveys (Key, 1960).
Scholars have conclusively established that economic conditions can shape citizen candidate
favorability and vote choice (Chappell and Keech 1988; Kramer 1971; Tufte 1975). Varying degrees of
economic impact have been considered. The sociotropic hypothesis examines how an individual’s
perception of the overall economic prosperity of the nation affects the view of incumbents (Kinder and
Kiewiet 1981). MacKuen (1992) finds that voters use the sociotropic hypothesis more than their own
personal financial experiences when determining who to vote for. Kramer (1983) and Stigler (1973)
further show that personal income levels tend not to effect elections, unless an individual has seen an
unexpected change in per capita real income.
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Party identification has received intensive use as an independent variable in relation to vote
choice and candidate favorability (Goren 2005; Meier 1975). As Campbell (1960, 121) asserted in The
Few factors are of greater importance for our national elections than the lasting attachment of
tens of millions of Americans to one of the parties. These loyalties establish a basic division of
electoral strength within which the competition of particular campaigns take place…Most
Americans have this sense of attachment with one party or the other. And for the individual
who does the strength and direction of party identification are facts of central importance in
accounting for attitude and behavior.
However, recently scholars have begun to question the truth of Campbell’s claim. Writing in 1988,
Hedrick Smith (671) claims that “the most important phenomenon of American politics in the past
quarter century has been the rise of independent voters.” Introductory textbooks now tell students that
“voters no longer strongly identify with one of the major parties” (Wilson and DiIulio 1995, 180). The
strongest academic arguments against parties have found that “for over four decades the American
public has been drifting away from the two major political parties” (Wattenberg 1996, ix). However, as
Larry Bartels shows, this information could not be further from the truth. Not only is party identification
as important as it was in 1960, it has actually grown in each successive election since (Bartels 2000, 35;
Weisberg 2002, 339). Far from “partisans using their identifications less and less as a cue in voting
behavior,” Bartels widely accepted research shows that partisan loyalties have never been stronger
across the nation (Wattenberg 1996, 27).
Demographic features are an important cue for voters when selecting an officeholder. As
scholars have noted, every major presidential election in the 1990s has its own gender frame from the
year of the woman to the impact of soccer moms and NASCAR dads (Carroll 1997; Norris 1997). Anna
Greenberg shows how a distinct gender gap has emerged between men and women, with 54% of
women voting for Clinton in 1996 compared to 43% of men. Further, she sees a distinctive split amongst
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women, with economically vulnerable and minority women forming the base of the Democratic Party
and upscale women supporting Republicans. Pollster Celinda Lake goes as far as to claim that “women
are Democrats, men are Republicans” (Lawrence 1996). Republican pollster Bill McIntruff tends to agree
since women are more interested in Medicare, health care, education, and the environment, which are
all issues Republicans tend to struggle on (Lawrence 1996). Moreover, women tend to support activist
government on a range of economic issues and this preference can easily be linked to candidate
approval (Ladd 1997; Seltzer et al. 1997; Shapiro and Mahajan 1986).
African Americans are the most strongly identified group with the Democratic Party. Dawson
(1994) argues that class does not explain black political behavior, but rather African Americans rely on a
“black utility heuristic” to understand politics (Tate 1993). Thus, African Americans tend to vote for—
and support those who adhere to—their group interests. Not even the fact that African Americans
demonstrate the highest religious commitment of any group in the United States can push them to the
Republican camp (Lincoln and Mamiya 1990).
Thus, as we have seen, scholars have found that partisanship as well as ideological and policy
considerations, the personal characteristics of the contenders for office, group memberships, and media
imagery have played crucial roles in determining candidate evaluations (Goren 2002; Hetherington and
Nelson 2003; Markus 1988; Rapoport 1997; Weisberg 2002).While all of these variables seem likely to
play a significant role in voter choice, the fact that our country is in the midst of a controversial war begs
the question of issue importance on presidential evaluation (Goren 2000). In order to examine how
attitudes towards defense and foreign affairs affect presidential evaluation, there are three key areas in
established literature that we must examine: elite behavior, the rally effect, and issue ownership.
Public opinion literature provides a plethora of works that discuss the notion that ideological
perceptions in the general public are shaped by the political elites of a nation (Finkel and Norpoth 1984;
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Jacoby 1988). The theory basically holds that the individuals who compose the masses are not
interested in politics enough to form their own decisions. Instead, they typically rely on political elites to
provide voting cues which make the decision‐making process far simpler (Kritzer 1978). Voters today
are far more capable of making ideological distinctions than in previous decades. The more that
ideological and clear concepts are transmitted to voters through an elite filter, the more likely it is that
citizens will show an ideological grasp of politics (Finkel and Norpoth 1984). Ultimately, these
individuals are using cues from their reference groups in order to determine exactly what their own
individual attitudes are.
Kimball and Gross (2007) have accumulated data over the past three decades that shows
Republican members of Congress have become more unified and conservative while Democrats have
become more liberal. Thus, at least for the political elites, we are seeing a definitive polarization
between the left and right. Since 1984 and the clear ideological stance of President Reagan, the
electorate’s placement of the Republican Party has moved towards the right. This had occurred
previously for the Democrats after McGovern was nominated in 1968 (Rapoport 1997). In the study
conducted by Finkel and Norpoth (1984), Reagan was rated by voters as 3.45 times more conservative
than neutral, which provided strong ideological cues which shaped the sample’s ideological ratings of
issues and candidates. Thus, in regards to presidential evaluation, we see that elite influence can play
some role in shaping public opinion of the less sophisticated members of the electorate.
The Rally Effect
After any major national tragedy, the President typically receives a boost in approval as he
combats the unifying enemy—this effect is best known as the “rally around the flag effect” (Baker and
Oneal 2001; Gaines 2002; Mueller 1973; Norrander and Wilcox 1993; Oneal and Bryan 1995). The
theory is that public will increase its support of the president, in a non‐partisan fashion, in times of crisis
or during major international occurrences, at least temporarily, because he is the unifying symbol of our
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nation (Chanley 2002; Edwards and Swenson 1997). The particular rally sparked by the events of
ultimately prompted the launching of the War on Terrorism, which was later used as the
necessary grounds for invading Iraq (Hetherington and Nelson 2003). Bush’s approval ratings catapulted
to unprecedented heights after the September attacks (Gaines 2002). Bush received a thirty‐five point
jump in approval ratings between September 10th
and September 15th
, obviously due to the rally around
the flag effect. Edwards and Swenson (1997) ultimately conclude that party identification provides a
significant predisposition towards supporting the president, yet the rally event appears to be an
additional force that pushes potential supporters over the threshold of approval. For an example of
historical rally effects and their impact on public opinion, the following graph from Hetherington and
Nelson (2003) graphically displays the occurrence:
Percent Approving of the President During Three Successful Foreign Crises:
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The rally effect of September 11th
, however, was unique from historical precedents in that
Democrats and Independents actually rallied in much greater numbers than Republicans (Hetherington
and Nelson 2003). Consider than in the immediate time following September 11th
Bush gained nine
points with Republicans, thirty‐eight points with Independents, and an astonishing fifty‐six points with
Democrats. Clearly patriotism was the root cause of Bush’s early approval surge (Hetherington and
Nelson 2003). Given his current approval ratings, it is quite clear that with time the rally effect
dissipates. Presidents can either seize the momentum from a rally effect and use it for the remained of
their time in office or they can fail to harness in its power and squander valuable political capital. For
the purposes of this study, it is imperative to note that the differences between 2004 NES data and the
current state of public opinion could be vastly different, depending on how much of the rally effect is
still at work.
Issue Ownership and Its Partisan Affects
The basic tenet of issue ownership is that particular parties hold reputations for their ability to
handle certain issues (Goren 1997). Such reputations give candidates of a particular party credibility
when dealing with these issues. By filling the agenda with issues that are considered their strongholds,
candidates for public office can enhance their odds for electoral success. David Damore (2004) has
devoted much time to examining the effects of increasing the salience of party‐owned issues. He finds
that voters typically view Republicans as better able to handle foreign policy issues and government
management affairs, whereas Democrats are considered strong on social welfare and civil rights.
Assuming these arguments to be valid, thermometer ratings for Bush would likely be higher when voters
utilize party‐owned issues to make their decision.
Numerous other scholars have examined the impact of party attachments as an important
source of policy orientations in the American electorate (Jacoby 1988; Rapoport 1997; Whitely 1988).
However, it is important to note that some debate has emerged over the impact of party attachments in
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a candidate‐centered era (Rapoport 1997). Just like the political elites act as a cue for voters, so does
party identification. As Jacoby (1988) asserts, the stronger one’s attachment to his/her party is, the
more likely he/she is to possess the same attitude as the party on any given issue. Individual candidates
influence the image of the party in more ways than merely through presenting their ideological leanings,
however (Rapoport 1997). Rapoport ultimately finds that candidates have an important influence on
partisanship in both the long and short‐term. Whiteley (1988) fails to believe the evidence that
partisanship causes issue perceptions; he finds the results ambiguous and potentially due to mere
affective feelings instead of cognitive judgments. In the end, he prefers the stance that party
identification affects the sources of issue attitudes, not the attitudes themselves. If we believe this take,
then the relationship between party identification and issue attitudes are based on a series of spurious
correlations. Jacoby (2001) explains that the relationship only exists because Republican perceptions of
their party’s issue positions are different—significantly in many cases—than Democratic perceptions of
their party’s own issue positions. Jacoby ultimately concludes that it is quite unclear still how
partisanship fits into the voter choice model.
III. Design and Methodology
Having reviewed the literature, it becomes clear that many different factors come into play
when a voter is determining favorability of a politician—particularly the president. In the remainder of
the paper, I will present three models that examine what factors ultimately shape how respondents rate
President George W. Bush on a traditional feeling thermometer. Independent variables are grouped
into five categories. In the first category are two questions that ask whether George W. Bush makes the
respondents angry or hopeful. Both are dummy coded to identify whether they were mentioned by
respondents. These variables touch on the theory that feelings aroused by individual politicians will
contribute to overall evaluation. The second category consists of two variables related to economic
voting models. The first variable asks whether respondents believe the national economy has gotten
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better or worse in the last year (a reflective exercise), while the second variables asks what the
respondent believes the economy will do in the coming year (prospective in nature). The third
categorization looks at perceived traits of George Bush. Respondents are asked if they believe Bush is
moral, knowledgeable, and/or intelligent. All three are dummy coded to demonstrate being mentioned
and again these variables build on the idea that positive character attributions will lead to positive
evaluations while negative attributions will lead to negative evaluations. The penultimate variable
categorization looks at how the respondent feels social service spending and defense spending should
be handled. Those that emphasize defense spending are expected to be more favorable of Bush
whereas those that feel more weight should be given to social services would be expected to look less
highly on Bush. The final set of variables looks at demographic indicators as discussed earlier.
Information on age, marital status, education, gender, income, and race are utilized—along with the all‐
important party identification. While a series of variables exist that could be utilized in this study, those
selected have been done so because they are presented identically in all three waves of the ANES
studies and meet other criteria. I have attempted to select character traits and personal feelings that do
not present collinearity problems. I have chosen issue stances (social services and defense) as they in
many ways are popularly perceived to be an either‐or measure. Further, they are specific enough to be
understood while being vague enough to not be burdensome for understanding. I have not included
variables related to the War in Iraq or the War on Terror given that they were not applicable to all three
waves—and also are so robust as to detract from the goals of this paper.
By examining cross‐sections of ANES surveys in 2000, 2004, and 2008, I will be able to examine
two main questions at once. First, which factors appear to be significant at each time? And secondly,
are the independent variables used for judging favorability of Bush over time consistent or inconsistent?
Do voters change their cues? The dependent variable for the study is the 2004 feeling thermometer for
George W. Bush. It is an interval‐level variable running from 0 (signifying strongly disapprove) to 100
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(the highest possible value). While feeling thermometers have been widely used in survey research
since their inception in the 1964 NES survey, there are some methodological problems they present
(Anderson and Granberg, 1991; Green, 1988; Weisberg and Rusk, 1970; Wilcox, Sigelman, and Cook,
1989). Consider the frequency report for the Bush Feeling Thermometer from the 2004 NES dataset:
As is clearly shown, approximately 30% of the cases are represented at the far poles of 0 and 100,
leading statistically to a substantial standard deviation. Thus, when using feeling thermometers as
dependent variables, it is important to note how truly subjective the assignment of thermometer scores
can be. I may, for example, agree with Bush on numerous points, but ultimately give him a 0 due to the
War in Iraq. Given that the dependent variables ranges from 0 to 100 and given the magnitude of the
Feeling Thermometer: George W. Bush
171 14.1 14.2 14.2
1 .1 .1 14.3
1 .1 .1 14.3
4 .3 .3 14.7
95 7.8 7.9 22.5
3 .2 .2 22.8
1 .1 .1 22.9
81 6.7 6.7 29.6
1 .1 .1 29.7
90 7.4 7.5 37.1
2 .2 .2 37.3
1 .1 .1 37.4
97 8.0 8.0 45.4
1 .1 .1 45.5
104 8.6 8.6 54.1
2 .2 .2 54.3
155 12.8 12.8 67.1
4 .3 .3 67.4
6 .5 .5 67.9
194 16.0 16.1 84.0
12 1.0 1.0 85.0
5 .4 .4 85.4
1 .1 .1 85.5
175 14.4 14.5 100.0
1207 99.6 100.0
Frequency Percent Valid Percent
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independent variables, I will utilize OLS Regressions to perform the analysis. The number of cases for
each wave is impacted by the number of missing values within each model.
Before examining the details of all three models, a more generic understanding of the changes
in favorability towards Bush is in order. We will begin with a simply look at how the average feeling
thermometer placement altered from 2000 to 2008.
In 2000, the average thermometer rating was 56.14. By 2004 it had fallen slightly, to 54.94. And
ultimately by 2008 it had plummeted to 37.58. The generalized explanation for such a finding is that
Bush entered the White House with a solid thermometer scale, avoided the typical first term significant
drop due to the rally effect from the War on Terror, and ultimately saw his numbers drastically decrease
as the War in Iraq unfolded.
Based on the literature discussed previously it is clear that many academics would point to party
identification being a main predictor of thermometer ratings for George W. Bush.
2000 2004 2008
Bush Thermometer 56.14 54.94 37.58
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As evident by figure 2, these claims of party identification driving candidate evaluation appear to be true
in this isolated fashion. Democrats rank Bush lower than Republicans, with independents in the middle.
Likewise, in almost all case, strength of party identification moves with the feeling thermometer ratings
(i.e. those who are stronger Democrats rank Bush lower than those who are independent‐leaning
Democrats). We notice clearly that both parties dropped from 2004 to 2008, but that Republicans
increased their scores from 2000 to 2004 whereas Democrats (and independents) dropped there as
well. With this information in hand, it will be of more interest to note whether party identification
emerges as significant when placed in the overall regression model.
As part of the ANES surveys in 2000 and 2004, respondents were asked whether there is
something in particular that they like or dislike about George W. Bush (this information was not
collected in 2008 as it is reserved for presidential candidates). Respondents were permitted to respond
2000 2004 2008
Bush Thermometer by Party ID
Strong Democrat Democrat Weak Democrat Independent
Weak Republican Republican Strong Republican
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with up to five likes and five dislikes. Before examining what the models suggest to us as driving forces
between liking and disliking Bush, a look at what respondents self‐identify and things they like and
dislike will be useful.
When looking at the top five things respondents acknowledge liking and disliking about Bush in
2000 and 2004, we encounter the following:
2000 Like Count 2004 Like Count
Honest/sincere; man of integrity 147 Decisive/aggressive 128
Good Republican 90 Handles terrorism better 121
Family 69 Honest/sincere; man of integrity 116
Pro‐lower taxes 67 General assessment 76
Record of public service 62 Handles Iraq better 70
2000 Dislike Count 2004 Dislike Count
Dishonest/insincere; no integrity 101 Handles Iraq worse 353
A Republican 93 Dishonest/insincere; no integrity 97
Pro‐big business 88 Economy worse under him 60
Favors death penalty 75 Pro‐big business 60
Unintelligent/stupid/dumb 65 Unintelligent/stupid dumb 41
The results present a clouded picture. Beginning with 2000, we notice sever polarization as the first two
likes are the antithesis of the first two dislikes. His strengths are inherently his weaknesses. The third
most cited like relates directly to his family—particularly his father. The fourth most cited like—pro‐
lower taxes—seems to run along the same lines with the dislike of his perceived favoritism towards big
business. Likewise, the idea of his record of public service being an oft cited positive does not
necessarily mesh with the idea that he is unintelligent, stupid, or dumb, which is actually cited by more
respondents. His favoring the death penalty is one of only two clearly articulated policy positions that
gain significant mention. In 2004, we see much the same. Strengths to one are inherent weaknesses to
others. While Bush’s handling of Iraq is clearly the most articulated dislike, it is also one of the top five
liked qualities. Further, on the same note, his handling of terrorism and his decisiveness and
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aggressiveness merit strong favorable sentiment from respondents . The dichotomy over his honesty
and sincerity also resurfaces during his second election. Ultimately, what these tables show is that
views towards Bush are polarized. Even on the same qualities, some respondents are ending up at polar
ends of the spectrum with regards for how they perceive it.
We will begin our analysis of the prescribed models by examining ANES 2000 in Table 4.
Table 4: OLS Regression Model—2000
Dependent Variable‐Feeling Thermometer—George W. Bush
Coef. t‐score Sig.
Bush Affect: Angry ‐.149 ‐3.540 .000
Bush Affect: Hopeful .328 6.889 .000
Bush‐‐Moral .110 2.241 .026
Bush‐‐Knowledgeable .097 1.899 .059
Bush‐‐Intelligent .097 1.865 .063
Economy Past Year .007 .163 .871
Economy Next Year .071 1.850 .065
Social Service Spending .034 .797 .426
Defense Spending ‐.059 ‐1.400 .162
Party ID .208 3.774 .000
Age ‐.071 ‐1.820 .070
Married .025 .637 .525
Education ‐.041 ‐1.012 .313
Income .056 1.414 .159
African‐American ‐.051 ‐1.335 .183
Gender .005 .136 .892
Constant 6.976 .000
Adjusted R Square .598
Std. Error of the Estimate 16.146
Note: Figures are standardized coefficients shown alongside t‐scores.
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Dependent Variable: Bush Feeling Thermometer (0‐100)
Angry: 0‐mentioned; 1‐not mentioned
Hopeful: 0‐mentioned; 1‐not mentioned
Moral: ‐2‐does not describe well at all; 2‐describes extremely well
Knowledgeable: ‐2‐does not describe well at all; 2‐describes extremely well
Intelligent: ‐2‐does not describe well at all; 2‐describes extremely well
Past Year Econ: ‐1‐gotten worse; 1‐gotten better
Next Year Econ: ‐1‐get worse; 1‐get better
Social Services Spending: ‐2‐increase greatly; 2‐decrease greatly
Defense Spending: ‐2‐increase a lot; 2‐decrease a lot
Party ID: ‐3‐Strong Democrat; 3‐Strong Republican
Married: 1‐married; 0‐not married
Education: Highest grade completed (0‐17)
Income: Scaled (0‐25)
African‐American: 1‐African American; 0‐not African American
Gender: 1‐male; 0‐female
When looking at the 2000 model, we find four significant predictors, all in the hypothesized direction.
Using t‐scores to judge relative impact on the overall model, we note that Bush making a respondent
feel hopeful is actually the most significant variable. With a coefficient of .328, this finding is slightly
surprising given that the literature would lead us to expect party identification (the second strongest
predictor) to be dominant. Making individuals feel angry was our third significant predictor with a t‐
score of ‐3.540. As would be expected, those he makes me feel angry, are less likely to rate him high on
the feeling thermometer. Lastly, significant at the .1 level is the variable indicating respondents find
Bush to be moral. Overall, the year 2000 model demonstrates that party identification, personal
attributes assumed of Bush, and how Bush makes respondents feel dominate the decision‐making when
assigning a feeling thermometer score. This is especially true when considering that believing Bush is
knowledgeable and intelligent were the next two variables close to significant. Issue stances, the
economy, and demographic data did not register as significant in this iteration of the model.
The 2004 model finds many more variables to be significant predictors.
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Table 5: OLS Regression Model—2004
Dependent Variable‐Feeling Thermometer—George W. Bush
Coef. t‐score Sig.
Bush Affect: Angry ‐.156 ‐6.902 .000
Bush Affect: Hopeful .176 7.199 .000
Bush‐‐Moral .193 7.892 .000
Bush‐‐Knowledgeable .156 4.906 .000
Bush‐‐Intelligent .107 3.392 .001
Economy Past Year .075 3.257 .001
Economy Next Year .014 .680 .497
Social Service Spending ‐.009 ‐.463 .643
Defense Spending .064 3.139 .002
Party ID .242 9.136 .000
Age .001 .071 .943
Married .016 .776 .438
Education ‐.013 ‐.652 .515
Income ‐.012 ‐.529 .597
African‐American .052 2.721 .007
Gender ‐.005 ‐.251 .802
Constant 10.292 .000
Adjusted R Square .755
Std. Error of the Estimate 16.756
This iteration of the model indicates nine significant predictors of varying strengths. As the literature
would predict, party identification proves to be the most significant predictor, with a t‐score of 9.136.
The following five predictors are all tied to how Bush makes respondents feel and personal traits that
they attribute to Bush. The national economic performance is significant in this model, along with
defense spending. The final significant variable runs counter to popular perception and scholarly
literature: African‐Americans are shown to be positively correlated with Bush thermometer ratings in a
positive direction. No theoretical argument can be made for this outcome. What this model shows,
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again, is that party identification, personal attributes assumed of Bush, and how Bush makes
respondents feel continue to be the most important predictors in determining Bush feeling
thermometer ratings. While issues begin to appear significant in the 2004 model, their impact is far less
than the previously mentioned variables.
The 2008 model provides the fewest significant variables of all three.
Table 6: OLS Regression Model—2008
Dependent Variable‐Feeling Thermometer—George W. Bush
Coef. t‐score Sig.
Bush Affect: Angry ‐.134 ‐2.436 .016
Bush Affect: Hopeful .182 3.205 .002
Bush‐‐Moral .109 1.946 .053
Bush‐‐Knowledgeable .117 1.648 .101
Bush‐‐Intelligent .103 1.408 .161
Economy Past Year .067 1.276 .203
Economy Next Year .032 .677 .499
Social Service Spending ‐.047 ‐.838 .403
Defense Spending .065 1.319 .189
Party ID .306 4.637 .000
Age .011 .210 .834
Married .095 1.692 .092
Education ‐.014 ‐.250 .803
Income ‐.032 ‐.516 .606
African‐American ‐.013 ‐.245 .806
Gender ‐.069 ‐1.414 .159
Constant 4.222 .000
Adjusted R Square .562
Std. Error of the Estimate 20.092
This model presents results congruent with the previous two. Our most significant variable again is
party identification, with a t‐score of 4.637. The other significant variables are how Bush makes
P a g e | 19
respondents feel—both angry and hopeful. Unlike party identification, they are significant at only the
.05 level. Identifying Bush as being moral approaches significance, but falls just short. What this
iteration of our model shows—yet again—is that party identification and how Bush makes respondents
feel are the driving forces behind feeling thermometer ratings of George W. Bush.
Party polarization has directly led to a nation that finds itself choosing camps and battling over
highly complicated issues. Matters such as abortion, immigration, gay marriage, gun control, wars on
two extremely different fronts, education, and the economy are all highly complicated issues which in
theory separate individuals within the United States. Each party has attempted to frame the issues into
their specific agendas. Yet, as Markus Prior (2002) points out, most Americans know very little about
the political landscape. Major events, however, are likely to attract an attentive
viewing/listening/reading audience. After September 11th
, citizens nationwide became attuned to the
events and happenings, even leading to increased interest in civic organizations (Prior 2002; Skocpol
This study does not take away anything from the suggestion that partisanship plays a strong role
in evaluating leaders. Nor does it point to the fact that basic demographic variables are unimportant.
Instead, it shows that there is a role for how politicians make voters feel and the attributes that survey
respondents prescribe to politicians plays a role in forming these opinions. Let us briefly return back to
Whiteley’s (1988) model:
P a g e | 20
The 2000, 2004, and 2008 models explored above all show that partisanship plays a driving role in
determining how respondents will rate a politician on a feeling thermometer. In the 2004 model, we
find evidence of issues playing a significant role, but any support is lacking in the other two cross‐
sections. Instead, what we uncover is a clear role for feelings and character attributes. This finding is
significant and consistent across all three models. While his popularity dropped from 2000 to 2008, the
above analysis has helped to demonstrate what factors have led to this occurrence. Clearly, policy
decisions and issue stances have had an impact. Respondents made that explicitly clear in the free
response section. However, the more parsimonious models, developed to compare whether feelings
caused by Bush, the economy, characteristics attributed to Bush, spending stances, or demographics
ultimately play the largely role, demonstrate that broad‐based issue stances do not have the same
effect. Rather, party affiliation and being made to feel angry or hopeful by a president that you find to
be moral, knowledgeable, or intelligent, makes an individual more likely to highly rate them when asked.
Robert Draper (2007) provides a perfect story to demonstrate Bush’s leadership style. In his
epilogue, Draper discusses the meeting between President Bush and the St. Louis Cardinals after the
Cardinals World Series victory in 2006. The Cardinals had started the season in dominating fashion
before enduring a prolonged midseason slide, barely qualifying for the postseason. Up seven games
with two weeks to play, the Cardinals rounded out the regular season with a seven game losing streak.
The team finished the year 83‐78, the worst record ever for a World Series winner. As he addressed the
team he explained that “when you’re on one of those losing streaks it’s easy to get down and to forget
the goal…the sports pages were a little rough on you for a while there…you endure it, as the result of
character and leadership” (Draper 2007, 409). Bush, however, had been sure since August that the
Cardinals would win the World Series. After meeting with manager Tony LaRussa, Bush was convinced
of the Cardinals outcome “because he [LaRussa] was. Because he believed it. And [Bush] appreciate[s]
good leadership” (Draper 2007, 409). The story of the Cardinals’ season closely mirrors Bush’s time in
P a g e | 21
office. There was a period of great hope and praise followed by a slight downturn, which quickly turned,
into a complete collapse. Ultimately, however, the Cardinals moved forward and found momentum
back on their side. For President Bush, the jury still remains out in deliberation on the final outcome.
Francis Fukuyama (2006, 60‐61) demonstrates how Bush may ultimately be judged:
Great leadership often involves putting aside self‐doubt, bucking conventional wisdom, and
listening only to an inner voice that tells you the right thing to do. That is the essence of strong
character. The problem is that bad leadership can also flow from these characteristics: steely
determination can become stubbornness; the willingness to flout conventional wisdom can
amount to a lack of common sense; the inner voice can become delusional.
George W. Bush “was an average student, a party guy, and a mediocre athlete” (Thompson and Ware
2003, 279). He took this mediocrity and became the president of the strongest nation in the world.
While his leadership style has provided benefits and detriments alike during his tenure as president, the
imperative fact is that he utilized a style that he felt would succeed. Bush “created a system that
enabled him to extract desired information from a disciplined hierarchy” (Rudalevige 2008, 136). Much
like my undergraduate student reminded us pages ago, Bush worked to better the country in a manner
that he saw fit. Regardless of partisan views of policy outcomes, the decisions are based on good
intentions and should be at least recalled as such. He was not Reagan or Nixon or Clinton or his father.
He was George W. Bush, unwavering in values or resolve. Even when his leadership style did not work
to his benefit, he remained consistent—at times to a fault. As Fukuyama pointed out, leaders like Bush
can live and die by the same sword. Ultimately, each individual will interpret the Bush leadership legacy
through their own lens. What is most important about the Bush style “is that it works for him” (Kettl
2003, 185). From his heart and from his core, “Bush deeply believes that he knows what is best, for
himself, for the nation, and for the world” (Kettl 2003, 188).
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