During and shortly after the Gulf War my colleagues and I conducted four surveys that may now tell us something about how public attitudes will unfold in the course of an accelerating confrontation with Iraq. One important difference is that twelve years ago the issue was oil — not weapons of mass destruction, not regime change. Many, looking at the oil interests that permeate the Bush2 administration, believe that the issue is still oil. The mainstream press only carries that linkage incidentally, as in cartoons.
The US Secretary of State, James Baker, explained to the troops sitting in the Arabian desert and facing war, that their purpose was protecting "jobs, jobs, jobs". The administration of President George Bush, Sr., presented publicly no high-minded objective like "bringing democracy to the Middle East" or producing "a lasting peace in the Middle East," which 87% of the people said in our first survey was "very" or "extremely" important as an objective of the impending war. Only more recently has a Bush president come to understand through our public-interest polling when the American people favor the use of force and what leaders have to do to get support for war as explained in my October 9 column. Bush2 has fully and masterfully adopted those ideas.
Some problems and opportunities of the two situations twelve years apart are surprisingly similar. One similarity is that during the five month US led Gulf War build-up along the Arabian-Iraq-Kuwait border, it seemed that the only thing that would stop the US invasion of Iraq would be Iraq's prior capitulation. A question asked at that time was introduced with this lead-in:
|"Here are some things that some people thought we should have done but did not do before the situation in the Persian Gulf happened. As I mention each one, please tell me if you think it would have helped a lot, helped a little, or not helped at all, to make the confrontation with Iraq unnecessary" . . . .|
The question then went on to present 9 things that were not done, 6 of which got 70+% consensus support for helping "at least a little" and all 9 had majority support. Here are the responses in rank order of "helped a lot":
|Helped a lot|
Supported increased research and development of energy sources other than oil
a campaign to increase energy efficiency and conservation in autos,
Strengthened the UN peace keeping capabilities
Given more incentives to oil companies for exploration and recovery operations
in places outside the
Further increased our government strategic oil reserves
Continued the mandatory annual improvement in miles per gallon of US autos discontinued in 1984
Put a tax on foreign oil of 5 cents per gallon more each year for ten years, totaling 50 cents at the end of ten years
Talk about issues where the people differ from their leaders, look at the four that ranked 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 6th! How long before any US leader wanted to give those ideas any mention? Seven years later was when President Clinton began to offer such proposals.
When we asked for the one thing that would have helped the most from among these 9 items, the 1st still topped the list, but the 7th came in second. Many people, not thinking about the fact that the United States had aided Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, until reminded in this question set, boosted that item up to second place in importance.
While questions like these are very revealing, some may be very misleading when taken out of context or not examined closely. We close with a question illustrating this point, asked in Oct. '87, 3 years before the Gulf War, with lead-in:
|"I'm going to read the names of the countries that are thought to have a nuclear capability. After I read the list, please tell me which one or two of these countries gives you the greatest concern - I mean which ONE OR TWO you feel would be the most likely to explode a nuclear weapon" . . .|
Notice how "Iraq" topped the percent mentions list, far above all others:
|China||16%||Others/ Don't know||10%|
It is true that Iraq took heavy casualties in the ruthless, senseless Iran-Iraq war. Note that neither Iran nor any other Arab or Muslim country was included in the list offered. Such additional offerings would have detracted from Iraq mentions, probably substantially. We simply don't know if Iraq would have dropped from first place.
Please do not use this question as an example of any mystical prognosticative ability of the people. There is some wisdom among "the people" that emerges when asking what people want for policy and legislation. It does not emerge in questions asking the people to predict something. Public-interest polling shows from many examples that the public is no better at prediction than the experts. Neither is very good.
|>>> 2.5 The Polling Critic|