Charles E. Cook Jr.
Does It Matter Who the
© 2004 by The Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology
The Washington Quarterly • 27:2 pp. 183–185.
THE WASHINGTON QUARTERLY ■ SPRING 2004
Charles E. Cook Jr. writes weekly columns for National Journal and CongressDaily AM,
published by the National Journal Group. He is a political analyst for NBC News and
editor and publisher of the Cook Political Report, a Washington-based, nonpartisan
newsletter analyzing U.S. politics and elections.
Presidential elections, particularly those involving sitting presi-
dents, serve as referendums on the incumbent. Does the U.S. public believe
that the president has performed well enough to deserve reelection? Are
Americans confident that the incumbent can lead for another four years?
The issues that primarily determine voters’ answers to these questions are
fairly static as well: What is the state of the economy? How has the incum-
bent fared as a steward of the economy for the last four years, and what can
he be expected to do for the economy if reelected? If the country is at war,
in a period of crisis, or facing an unusual level of danger, how Americans
view the incumbent’s handling of the war or crisis and how much confi-
dence they have in that president to see the country through undoubtedly
come into play.
According to the Gallup Poll, by mid-November 2003, President George
W. Bush’s job approval rating had dropped to 50 percent—the lowest of his
presidency and lower than those of his father, Ronald Reagan, or Bill Clinton
in November of their third year in office. Thus, in the late fall of 2003, the
combination of a sluggish economy and a war that did not seem to be going
well had taken their toll on Bush’s standing with the American people.
Just a month later, however, following Bush’s surprise Thanksgiving visit
to the troops in Baghdad, the capture of Saddam Hussein, and the deal ne-
gotiated with Libyan leader Mu’ammar Qadhafi to end his country’s n