Thursday, March 13, 2008

Iraq Neutralized?

Conventional wisdom always assumed Iraq would be an albatross for any Republican Presidential nominee. On the flip side, the Democratic candidate would have no more effective talking point, Iraq would sway independents, giving them the advantage in the fall. A new PEW poll brings fairly startling results, and while temporary, fluid, volatile, these numbers might give Democrats pause:
According to late February polling conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 53 percent of Americans — a slim majority — now believe “the U.S. will ultimately succeed in achieving its goals” in Iraq. That figure is up from 42 percent in September 2007.

The percentage of those who believe the war in Iraq is going “very well” or “fairly well” is also up, from 30 percent in February 2007 to 48 percent today.

As many voters now believe that the war is going “well” as “not well” — 48 percent each, according to Pew.

Pew also found that 49 percent favor bringing the troops home as soon as possible while 47 percent say the troops should stay in until the situation stabilizes — statistical parity between the two positions.

The big electoral prize, independents are equally divided:
Half of self-identified independents polled now believe the United States should “keep troops in Iraq until the situation has stabilized,”

Iraq is McCain's issue, he has never shied away from bringing it up, even when it was politically perilious. For the Republicans, the prospects of any Iraq debate, which essentially amounts to a draw with the public, is really a victory, relative to the past circumstance. If the Republicans can take Iraq off the table as a point of criticism, that represents a worrying sign for Democrats, who always assumed advantage.

What these numbers tell us, there is a growing perception that America has turned the corner in Iraq, whether that is accurate or not is clearly debatable. However, in terms of perception, I doubt anybody would have predicted this change in opinion, and it clearly works against the Democrats.


Borges said...

A really good article on by the British satirist blog Chicken Yoghurt regarding the situation in Iraq and the UK's policy towards asylum seekers from Iraq.

MarkCh said...

In fairness, some people have been predicting it since last autumn, or at least predicting that the Americans could well win. It is basically what Petraeus said back in September.

If current trends in Iraq and American public opinion about it continue, it could be very difficult for Obama in a few months' time.

Steve V said...

Things started to change last fall, but only now are public perceptions starting to change. I'm not sure it will hurt Obama but being against the war may not be the ace up his sleeve we thought it would be.

Northern PoV said...

Ya "the surge is working".
As in the "surge" is a successful re-packing of rotten meat.


If you’re reading these words, you are better informed about US casualties in Iraq than most Americans, for whom it has become a forgotten war. If it is not on television, it does not exist.

Steve V said...


I'm not trying to debate the surge is working, just the perception the surge is working has leeched into the public consiousness.

MarkCh said...

Obama is in real danger of suffering the same problem as Kerry in 2004. Half his supporters are either confident America is losing or actually want it to lose. The other half feel the war was a mistake originally, but would now like to win if possible. It will be very difficult to keep both groups happy if the broad public starts to feel that victory can be achieved.

Kerry tried to trim, which meant that the anti-war crowd lost their fervour for him, and the pro-victory crowd didn't trust him. Can Obama resist this urge and come down strongly on one side or the other, or will he try to be vague about it?

Northern PoV said...

OK Steve V ...
But you did say things started to change last fall and markch seems to buy the spin completely.

Had the 1973-version of Kerry been running (rather than the sad robotic Kerry of 2004) he would have trounced Bush.

Obama is the only candidate still in the run, who has called Iraq a mistake and promised imminent withdrawal. (If he does get elected it will be interesting if he can pull it off.)

If the TV networks accurately reported Iraq (like Juan Cole does - every day btw) - Bush & Cheney would have been impeached long ago - rather than looking at a possible McCain victory.

Iraq today is the Monty-Python dead parrot if there ever was one.

MarkCh said...

I didn't say that I thought America could win. I just said that many Americans would like it to win if possible. If they come to believe that it can (rightly or wrongly), then immediate withdrawal won't look so smart. However, even that would be better than trimming as Kerry did in 2004. As you say, a forthright anti-war, pull out now stance would probably have served him better.

Steve V said...

I don't think the Kerry analogy is a good one, because Obama has been clear on Iraq from the beginning, Kerry's record was sketchy.

I will say this about Obama, he needs to choose his words carefully. A few weeks ago he said he wouldn't hesitate bringing American troops back into Iraq, should Al Qaeda establish a base in the country. McCain seized on this gaffe, by pointing out the obvious, Al Qaeda is in Iraq right now (whether they were or not when the war started is irrelevant to the present circumstance).

JimmE said...

This is all in the context of fewer reports of losses of life- of US soldiers - in the news media.
This from the Pew Research :

Public awareness of the number of American military fatalities in Iraq has declined sharply since last August. Today, just 28% of adults are able to say that approximately 4,000 Americans have died in the Iraq war. As of March 10, the Department of Defense had confirmed the deaths of 3,974 U.S. military personnel in Iraq.

The drop in awareness comes as press attention to the war has waned. According to the News Content Index conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, the percentage of news stories devoted to the war has sharply declined since last year, dropping from an average of 15% of the newshole in July to just 3% in February.

JimmE said...

Also it will about the bills marked PAST DUE.
Even if Hillary the Hawk is the Dem. candidate (CRINGE!) the elephant in the room will get addressed; ie. THE COST OF THIS MESS! If one is to believe some of the costing, Iraq will cost the US something more than $3 TRILLION (in real terms more than every war the US has fought outside of WW2). Check out the latest Vanity Fair (

Money will (sadly) be what sinks this evil business. It's the cost stupid!

Steve V said...


For quite some time, any coverage was simply a function of casualties. When casualties dropped, so too did the coverage.

The Iraq war was always the number one issue on voters minds, but recently it has dropped to third or fourth.

JimmE said...

Steve, you're right, as the numbers of dead (Americans) drops, the coverage drops there is a causal relationship. But once a focus (on the money) starts again, so will the coverage, and the polls will reflect this renewed coverage (depending on the slant of the coverage).

Steve V said...


I'm not so sure. If you listen to Obama and Clinton on the stump, Iraq is no longer the centerpiece, even to a partisan Democratic audience. The money issue has always been there, if it is woven into an economic angle than it may get some play.

Anthony said...

i think this clearly benefits Clinton who will argue the same thing, that sometimes an unpopular decision may be the correct one, that when executed properly, the war was not as bad as Obama says it is

Steve V said...

It will be interesting to see if one of them pivots in the general.