WASHINGTON — Three out of four Americans, including large numbers of Republicans, blame President Bush's economic policies for making the country worse off during the last eight years, according to a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll released Wednesday, reflecting a sharp increase in public pessimism during the last year.
Nine percent of respondents said the country's economic condition had improved since Bush became president, compared with 75% who said conditions had worsened. Among Republicans, 42% said the country was worse off, while 26% said it was about the same, and 22% thought economic conditions had improved.
Phillip Thies, a registered Republican and clothing-store owner in Cedar, Mich., who was one of those polled, said the president was doing an able job through the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks but "right after that, it was steadily, steadily downhill."
"There has been a lack of leadership and a lack of timeliness of leadership, of not being conscious of the magnitude of the problems," Thies said of Bush in a follow-up interview. "He's always a day late and a dollar short."
Said Lois Coleman, 84, of Floyds Knobs, Ind., who described herself as an independent, "I'm not as well off as I was before he was president and that pertains to all my friends, too, everyone I know."
Economic pessimism has deepened sharply in the last year, intensified by higher fuel prices, the poll found. When the question was asked in March 2007, 24% of respondents said Bush's policies had improved the nation's economy and 46% said they had made it worse.
The increased unhappiness is reflected in an all-time low in Bush's approval rating -- just 23% now, compared with 34% in February.
"It is no surprise that Americans are feeling very pessimistic about the economy -- with rising gas and oil prices and food prices affecting their pocketbooks," said Times Poll Director Susan Pinkus.
"They don't see an end to the rise in prices. . . . Americans blame the president, along with the oil companies, for not having done enough to stem the tide of rising gas prices."
Seventy percent of respondents said the rising cost of fuel had caused hardship for their families, and the pain appeared to be spread across all income groups: 79% of people with incomes of less than $40,000 a year said the higher prices were a hardship, but so did 55% of respondents with incomes above $100,000.
Scott White, 47, a registered Republican from Saco, Maine, said he had to get public assistance twice last year to pay for home heating oil. He says he expects things to get worse before they get better.
"I'm what I call middle-class poor," said White, who has muscular dystrophy and recently had to stop working because of his disability. "It seems like [President Bush] is not in touch with the American people. . . . I voted for him both elections, but I wouldn't vote for him again."
Asked for their view of the cause of the higher prices, respondents blamed the Bush administration and oil company profits in roughly equal measure -- 29% holding the administration responsible and 25% blaming the oil companies, a spread within the poll's margin of error.
Thirteen percent of those polled said commodities speculators were responsible for the increases; 14% said they were not sure who was at fault.
Amber Guckenberg, a 28-year-old stay-at-home mother in Kalispell, Mont., said she wasn't sure Bush deserved all the blame for rising energy prices, but she wished he had found a way to rein them in.
"We've had to scale back on a lot of things -- not going on camping trips, watching what we buy at the grocery store," Guckenberg said, noting that her monthly heating bills now top $300. "This year my kids probably won't be able to take swimming lessons because I can't afford it."
The poll also suggested that public support for a foreclosure rescue bill had weakened a bit while opposition had strengthened. Only 25% of respondents in a May Times/Bloomberg poll said they opposed government assistance for homeowners, while 36% oppose it now. Just 55% of respondents said they favored such government assistance now, compared with 60% in the May poll.
"I'm totally opposed to government coming to the aid of individuals who made poor decisions," said Thies, the clothing-store owner from Michigan. "It's tough cheese, Charlie."
Though respondents had strong opinions about the economy, they were not sure how to make it better. Asked what the top priority for improving the economy should be, 27% said cutting taxes, 20% said reducing the federal deficit, 13% said funding public programs and 13% said addressing the price of energy.
All together, 82% of respondents said the economy was doing badly, compared with 71% who felt that way when the question was asked in February. And the pessimism has intensified: Fifty percent of respondents said the economy was doing "very badly," compared with 38% in February.