President George W. Bush brought people (not necessarily governments) from all around the world together in a way previously unimaginable — strongly agreeing on — of all things — opposing U.S. war plans. Four questions taken from a high-quality poll conducted in Britain, just before the start of the Iraq war, offered startling evidence of the vast difference between America's strong (70+%) support for war and the view of the British, America's strongest supporting partner.
Q1. Which comes closer to your view of George Bush on Iraq?
Determined to go to war with or without UN backing 78%
Prepared for a peaceful settlement if Saddam disarms 10%
Saddam Hussein 45%
George Bush 45%
|N. Korea||26%||Palestinians||2%||Don't Know||5%|
|Iraq||25%||None of them||2%|
Q4. Thinking about the situation concerning Iraq, how much do you trust each of the following to take the right decisions? [collapsed scale]
|Tony Blair, UK||George Bush|
|little or none||49%||70%|
Many pollsters, including George W. Bush's Fred Steeper, have known for years that well over 70% of the American people will favor using whatever force it takes to topple rogue dictators guilty of heinous crimes (limited to international terrorism/drug trafficking, acquiring weapons of mass destruction, and gross violation of human rights of his own people), provided these three conditions are met
1. all peaceful means to do so have failed or US troops have already been deployed
2. and the action has been endorsed by the UN or supported by a broad group of allies
3. and the war has a high-minded purpose (specifically NOT just to acquire access to oil).
When the U.S. has embarked on a war the size and scope of the Iraq war, the importance and urgency of success has also meant that the people and the Congress will largely support all of the President's agenda foreign and domestic. This benefits any President almost regardless of his specific programs, hopes and goals. This explains why President Bush touched all the bases to get high support from the public, why he made an enormous effort to enlist the UN's support, even as he said he didn't need the UN endorsement, and why he declared his goal to be the extremely high-minded "elimination of global evil". No goal could better produce an unlimited number of rogue dictator targets suitable for future invasions. He got his prize — high support from Congress for his foreign and domestic agendas.
Will that support hold up if the President challenges several dictators at the same time or in an unlimited sequence? Probably. Will it hold up if any of these wars goes badly or budgetary imbalance fattens national and homeland security at the expense of the economy, education, environment, health care and human rights? We are in uncharted waters with this situation. We don't know.
Pollsters will continue to ask, almost daily, old-chestnut questions, like "the direction of the country" and, "how the President is handling his job", so someday we will know when, if ever, and to what degree the President starts losing support of the country. It could be that almost no matter how badly the economy and other domestic concerns are faring, if the government can continue to place the blame on "the necessity for winning the (then current) war", support for the President's policy will hold up.
What will not be asked — let alone with findings available publicly, is whether the policy of indefinite pre-emptive wars is failing. That will not be known unless questions on the effectiveness of such policies are asked specifically AND asked in many major countries.
I showed a survey draft with such questions to twenty professional pollsters and political poll watchers whom I have worked with over the years. I suggested surveys in key countries where opinions matter, such as Germany, France, Russia, China, India, and Brazil, and definitely, US and UK. Should a North Korean war loom, in Japan and South Korea too.
I am using the reactions of these professionals to improve the survey questions. To conduct the complete survey would cost several hundred thousand dollars. The cost could be brought down considerably by various short cuts that lose little of the survey value. Here is what the survey would cover.
1. Questions on how the Iraq war was justified. In the six months prior to the war, Bush and his top national security team sent up many trial balloons without appearing to be contradictory. Different leaders, Bush himself, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State, Colin Powell, etc., were allowed to express "their own" differing viewpoints. Justifications of some team members changed slowly, largely unnoticed. Quite a large number of different justifications emerged. People need to be asked later how strongly each helped justify war to them at the time, and their view of which were Bush's real reasons:
Remove Saddam Hussein from power/change the regime
Eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction
Bring peace and democracy to the suffering people of Iraq
Remove evil from the world, starting with Iraq
Reduce the possibility of international terrorists obtaining Iraq weapons of mass destruction.
Control Iraq's oil
Control Middle East oil
Bring Christianity or Judaic/Christian understanding to non-believers
UN inspectors in Iraq would never have found all the weapons of mass destruction.
For over 12 years Saddam Hussein ignored UN resolutions requiring disarming
The Bush team made statements, phrased as facts, to increase support for the war, The survey also tests whether the people in hindsight will believe that some of these statements were probably contrary-to-fact:
"Oil has nothing to do with a war in Iraq."
"How much the war may cost is the last thing to think about."
"Although you can never be sure about what war brings, the President is optimistic about a short war with few casualties."
"Everything possible will be done to minimize damage to the people of Iraq."
"There is clear evidence that Saddam is linked to Al Qaeda and the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S."
Spokesman, Ari Fleischer, never acknowledged any change in the Administration's justification for the war. The media, usually asking soft-ball questions, were stone-walled if they tried to get such acknowledgment from any of the leaders. The public at the time apparently perceived Bush's statements as clear, strong, and stable. But if nobody asks them, how can we know whether and when people's thinking changes? We can't. As usual, leaders — often wrong but with great assurance — tell us, now and forever, they know.
Other questions to be tested by my proposed survey include:
2. whether people believe Bush has found the road map for re-election and Republican control of government based on the people's own willingness to support perpetual war at least for now and extending way into the future.
3. whether people believe that we can fight prolonged wars without giving up American life-styles and without people making sacrifices beyond those required by the troops at war.
4. to what extent various parts of the public believe homeland security will restrict important human rights, making us less secure and creating terrorists. Having borne the brunt of rights suppression or having witnessed trampling of the rights of others, both groups, some believe, can produce new terrorists.
5. A final question series is different. It tests whether any growing portion of the people, probably initially close to zero, are aware of the possibility of other specific developments that can stop perpetual war.
If anyone wish to see the current version of my survey, let me know and I'll have it posted on www.publicinterestpolling.com.
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