As 1994 was ending, we asked the distinguished members of the Times Board of Advisers to peer ahead into the new year and assess the prospects for the world, national, state and urban economies--and to offer their advice to business people and public leaders for 1995.
Whether fair or not, Bill Clinton's political fortunes could hinge on how well public opinion polls treat him in the next nine months. Bushwhacked by the GOP in last November's elections, the President's national job approval scores are languishing just above 40%. He desperately needs to gain back some ground by autumn, or talk of independent candidacies and challenges from his own party will grow to a dull roar.
Two of Clinton's star-crossed predecessors--Republican George Bush and Democrat Jimmy Carter--saw their poll scores dive during their third year in office, prompting bitter internecine attacks against both. Bush was challenged in the primaries by Patrick J. Buchanan, Carter by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and then-Gov. Jerry Brown. Both presidents won renomination but lost their reelection bids.
Ironically, Clinton's ratings continue to slide even though consumer confidence has reached a 4 1/2-year high. Other public concerns about Clinton deflate the benefits to him of the economy's relatively strong performance--primarily, doubts about his leadership.
It's the \o7 trend\f7 in a president's third-year scores that seems to set the political tone, rather than his absolute level of support. Bush, for example, finished 1991 with a 53% Times Poll score, but that was a 30-point drop from earlier in the year. Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, ended 1983 with the same 53% approval rating. But Reagan had started the year in the high 30s, making him look like the comeback kid he turned out to be.