By Marshall Ingwerson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
PRESIDENT Bush's public approval rating has deflated by more than 30 percentage points since it peaked in the high 80 percent-range last spring.
As a trend, that figure is an ominous sign for his reelection prospects.
But how much trouble is the just-forming Bush campaign really in?
With the election 11 months away, two unknowns will significantly shape the outcome. One is the direction of the economy next summer. The other - less important at this point than the economy - is who the Democrats nominate.
But right now, Mr. Bush retains a strong field position and the race remains his to lose.
The measure that shows Bush at his weakest is national polling that pits Bush for reelection against an unnamed Democrat. In recent weeks, Bush has roughly tied his generic opponent in such matchups. A Times-Mirror poll released last week showed him losing by 2 percentage points.
Yet a generic Democrat may look better than the real thing. Against what the poll shows to be the strongest Democrat now considering a candidacy, New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, Bush wins 58 to 37.
Bush can also draw some comfort from historical patterns. His 55 percent approval rating (in the Times Mirror poll), though a comedown, is still relatively high as presidents run in the polls. At similar points in their reelection efforts, Richard Nixon stood at 49 percent and Ronald Reagan at 53 percent. Both won by landslides.
The historical patterns run even stronger in Bush's favor in the electoral college, where some analysts believe the GOP has developed a "lock" on the presidency. In the last six elections, points out Republican pollster and strategist Bill McInturff, the Republican candidate has won states worth 190 electoral votes, the Democrats 32.
No one, however, is laughing in the face of a stagnant economy that some officials now describe as entering the second dip in a double-dip recession. …