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The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Trying To Answer the ‘How’ As Well As the ‘Why’ With Polls



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Fascinating post by Chris Bowers, over at the left-of-center MyDD, expressing frustration about polls that tell us what Americans believe, or how they feel about a subject like Iraq, but comparably little about why they feel that way.

He looks at an open-ended question from a poll his site conducted last year, asking people why they supported or opposed the Iraq war, back in March 2003. The key graphs:

Despite its flaws, this poll offers some important insights. First, most people who support / supported the war did not mention Iraqi freedom or WMDs. The most common rationale, making up nearly half of all responses, centered around the idea that invading Iraq was a form of self-defense against terrorism / appropriate reaction to 9/11 (see support reasons 3-6). Even the generalized, amorphous rationales of support reasons 7-11 are roughly equal to the WMD and Iraqi freedom rationales combined. This poll appears to indicate that most people who support / supported the war just wanted to do something in response to 9/11 to protect themselves from future terrorism, even if that terrorism didn’t have WMDs. Even people who supported the war didn’t buy into, or at least care quite as much about, either freedom in Iraq or any weapon stockpiles Hussein may or may not have had.

On the other side of the coin, people who opposed the war overwhelming did not do so just because they didn’t believe there were WMDs, or because of the general paucity of allies in the invasion. In fact, the most common responses centered a general opposition to war, or at least pre-emptive war (opposition reasons 1, 3, 7, 10 and 11). Another common response was that people felt lied to, as seen in rationales 5, 8 and 9, where people felt the war was being conducted for reasons other than those most commonly stated. After that comes the idea that the war was either not being conducted properly, or at least was not connected to the “war on terror” and 9/11, as seen in responses 4 and 12. Only then comes the idea that there weren’t actually any WMDs.

Recognizing the challenges of putting together poll results on an open-ended question, these results reinforce certain gut instincts about the post-9/11 electorate attacks. I suspect the base of the Republican party – probably heavily represented among war supporters – is still significantly focused on terrorism, even five years after that infamous Tuesday. And I suspect that a significant chunk of the Democratic party’s base voters is essentially pacifist; “war is not the answer” is their answer to almost any foreign policy crisis.

It’s probably worth keeping this in mind as we watch Hillary Clinton attempt to gradually morph into a critic of the Iraq War; she’s always going to have a significant gap between her stances and the preferences of her base voters.

Maybe some loon’s book wasn’t as far off as some people thought.


Tags: Barack Obama , Bill Richardson , Chris Dodd , Fred Thompson , Hillary Clinton , Horserace , Joe Biden , John Edwards , John McCain , Mike Huckabee , Mitt Romney , Newt Gingrich , Rudy Giuliani , Sarah Palin , Something Lighter , Tommy Thompson


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