Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Public Opinion and Iraq Part 3

Recently, in order to revive his flagging poll numbers, especially regarding his Iraq policy, President Bush has given a series of five speeches aimed at convincing the American public that he has a clear plan for victory in Iraq. At first glance one might conclude his effort succeeded. The latest Washington Post-ABC News and CNN/USA Today Gallup polls show a modest increase in his approval rating. However, with closer scrutiny of the poll data and a bit of context it emerges that Bush’s public opinion problems, at least vis-à-vis Iraq, have not really changed. As I noted in a December 5 post, Bush’s most recent public opinion strategy (based on advice from Duke University political scientist Peter Feaver) for Iraq has been to convince Americans that he has a plan that will lead to success, in the belief that Americans are willing to support significant American casualties as long as they expect victory. Encouragingly for the President, the approval rating for his Iraq policy jumped ten percent and a majority of Americans (56 percent) once again support his handling of the “war on terror.” Also, according to the Washington Post, sixty percent said the United States is making significant progress in restoring civil order in Iraq and 65 percent said the United States is making significant progress in establishing a democratic government there. However, these poll numbers need to be put in the context of an apparently successful election last week. Bush has seen similar poll bounces in the past, like after the capture of Saddam Hussein, and they have generally proven temporary. Unless the insurgency falters significantly, and there is no such indication, these positive numbers will slump. Most discouraging for Bush, almost 60 percent of Americans do not believe he has a clear plan for success in Iraq, signalling that his public relations campaign has been ineffective. The President had better hope that Dr. Feaver’s “plan for victory” thesis is flawed. Otherwise, he will continue to suffer from weak public support for his Iraq policy. This will force him to begin withdrawing American troops in significant numbers soon, a move he is loathe to make.

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