People worry about the public-relations presidency: an institutional pattern of action giving high priority to public support, especially as shown by the opinion polls. These worries have been accentuated by actions in the White House and news media. “I don't live by the polls,” Bush told reporters early in 1990, parrying the implication that he did live by them. Daily polls that benefitted the White House were taken during the six months before the Gulf War by the Wirthlin Group (Ronald Reagan's second-term pollster) on behalf of “Citizens for a Free Kuwait.” These included very sophisticated tracking and feedback devices. Bush, in fact, became the first president to mention his own popularity polls in a State of the Union address in January 1992. Yet, Bush could as well have accused reporters of living by the polls. Each change in his public approval ratings was accompanied by featured news stories. At the close of the war, even before the planes had returned to their bases, commentators began speculating on how soon the president's popularity would fall.
Several things stand out from Bush's approval ratings in his first three years in office. His polls were strikingly high in absolute terms and relative to the polls of his predecessors at the same points in their administrations. Another notable feature was that they were more erratic. Where Reagan's polls changed by more than five percentage points only twice in the same period, Bush's changed by this amount 13 times, leading modern presidents in this kind of fluctuation. Bush's approval ratings climbed with the invasion of Panama in January 1990, fell the next month, and then fell further.