Correction to This Article
A May 11 article about the erosion of conservative support for President Bush and the Republican Congress cited a Gallup poll but failed to note that the survey was done with USA Today.

Bush, GOP Congress Losing Core Supporters

By Jim VandeHei and Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 11, 2006

Disaffection over spending and immigration have caused conservatives to take flight from President Bush and the Republican Congress at a rapid pace in recent weeks, sending Bush's approval ratings to record lows and presenting a new threat to the GOP's 12-year reign on Capitol Hill, according to White House officials, lawmakers and new polling data.

Bush and Congress have suffered a decline in support from almost every part of the conservative coalition over the past year, a trend that has accelerated with alarming implications for Bush's governing strategy.

The Gallup polling organization recorded a 13-percentage-point drop in Republican support for Bush in the past couple of weeks. These usually reliable voters are telling pollsters and lawmakers they are fed up with what they see as out-of-control spending by Washington and, more generally, an abandonment of core conservative principles.

There are also significant pockets of conservatives turning on Bush and Congress over their failure to tighten immigration laws, restrict same-sex marriage, and put an end to the Iraq war and the rash of political scandals, according to lawmakers and pollsters.

Bush won two presidential elections by pursuing a political and governing model that was predicated on winning and sustaining the loyal backing of social, economic and foreign policy conservatives. The strategy was based on the belief that conservatives, who are often more politically active than the general public, could be inspired to vote in larger numbers and would serve as a reliable foundation for his presidency. The theory, as explained by Bush strategists, is that the president would enjoy a floor below which his support would never fall.

It is now apparent that this floor has weakened dramatically -- and collapsed in places.

"A lot of us have been like Paul Revere and sounding the alarm for three or four years," said Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.). "Conservatives forgave Bush and Congress for our past mistakes because the war on terrorism was so important . . . but now there is a great deal of unhappiness. What you are going to increasingly see is a divided Republican Party."

Michael Franc, a top official at the Heritage Foundation, said his organization hosted 600 of its top conservative donors last week and heard more widespread complaining about Republicans than at any other point in the past 12 years. "It begins with spending, extends through immigration and results in a sense that we have Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee for the two parties," Franc said.

Ralph Sivillo, a 64-year-old retiree living in Monroe, N.Y., said he started turning against Bush in January. He said Democrats are beginning to look better to him. "I'm really dead against Bush at this point. What's he doing? He's doing nothing. Everybody's just bailing on him because they feel the same way."

"He's not well liked," said Douglas Giles, 47, a self-described conservative from Buffalo. "A lot of people don't think he's very good."

Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center, a leading polling group, said one of the most striking findings of recent surveys is the growing number of conservatives who "don't see Bush as one of them" as they did earlier. Pew found that Bush has suffered a 24-point drop in his approval rating among voters who backed him in 2004: from 92 percent in January 2005 to 68 percent in March.

Frank Newport of the Gallup Organization cautioned against reading too much into Bush's recent loss of support among conservatives. He said the numbers tend to ebb and flow and must be confirmed over several months before it is possible to conclude that the president has suffered irreversible erosion.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company