Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Thursday, March 13, 2008

  About that Pew poll on Iraq

At Politico David Kuhn makes the ridiculous argument that public support for the war in Iraq will boost McCain's presidential campaign and hurt the Democratic nominee this year.

The uptick in public support is a promising sign for Republican candidates who have been bludgeoned over the Bush administration’s war policies. But no candidate stands to gain more than McCain.

“How could Democrats possibly hand McCain a better issue than to let him run on his record of advocating a robust U.S. presence in Iraq with all the positive battlefield news that is filtering out of that country?” asked Michael O’Hanlon, a national security adviser at the Brookings Institution who has been at the center of the Iraq debate since the war’s outset.

Leaving aside the fact that news just isn't "filtering out" of Iraq because the traditional media is essentially ignoring it; and that there is little "positive" news to report except that American troops are being killed at a slower rate than last year. You'd think it would be a clue that something's wrong with your thesis when you find Michael O'Hanlon advocating it.

In any case, the entire proposition depends upon a Pew survey that found "a marked improvement in perceptions of the situation in Iraq over the past year", with an equal number of Americans now saying that the war is going well as think it's going badly. The problem is, that poll is not credible. When it appeared late in February, I decided against commenting on it because the numbers so obviously were outliers.

The Pew numbers simply can't be reconciled with most major surveys. Gallup has been tracking attitudes toward the war regularly, and as the latest poll shows yet again, there's been very little change since last September in perceptions of the effectiveness of the "surge" (now revealed to be a semi-permanent escalation). Also, on the most basic question of policy, 59% of Americans want a timetable for either a rapid or gradual withdrawal - the same as in September.

The very same Pew survey also produced some funky results regarding the popularity of Obama, Clinton, and McCain, results that differed significantly from those of most other polls. For example, in head-to-head matchups against McCain Pew had Clinton doing as well as Obama. The logical conclusion to draw was that the Pew survey was a clunker. All pollsters produce a lemon every once in a while, it's no big deal.

So it's a myth promulgated by hawks that the public is being won over to favor a prolonged occupation. The only reason that the O'Hanlons and Kuhns can give rein to their fantasies is that the American media have all but given up reporting on the quagmire. But unless sweetness and light breaks out between Basra and Kirkuk sometime before October, even while magical ponies prance and whinny in the White House Rose Garden, the situation will remain dismal. The American public made up its mind long ago. In fact, it is more cynical then ever about Iraq.

Cynicism toward the government has swelled. By 53%-42%, the widest margin ever, those polled said the Bush administration deliberately misled the American public about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the prime justification given for going to war.

Cheerleaders for war will need more than hollow rhetoric and cherrypicked statistics to convince us to embrace the quagmire. The issue is going to be toxic to McCain's campaign.

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