Iraq War Attitudes By James Joyner

Public Opinion Strategies* has released a survey [PDF file here] of likely voters’ attitudes toward the Iraq War that finds that most voters think the country is going in the wrong direction (67%) and President Bush is doing a poor job (60%), and that Iraq will never be a stable democracy (60%). No real surprises there, right?

Here are some pretty interesting numbers, though, given those and other indications** that the survey isn’t biased toward President Bush:

* 57% believe “The Iraq War is a key part of the global war on terrorism.”

* 57% “support finishing the job in Iraq, that is, keeping the troops there until the Iraqi government can maintain control and provide security for its people.

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* 50% want our troops should stay and “do whatever it takes to restore order until the Iraqis can govern and provide security to their country” while only 17% favor immediate withdrawal

* 56% believe “Even if they have concerns about his war policies, Americans should stand behind the President in Iraq because we are at war.”

* 53% believe “The Democrats are going too far, too fast in pressing the President to withdraw the troops from Iraq.”

I’m not quite sure what to make of these numbers, to be honest. Part of it is the expected “rally ’round the flag effect,” I suppose, although that should redound to Bush’s benefit. We know that the opposite is true: the mess in Iraq is largely responsible for driving down his job approval.

Clearly, though, a strong majority of Americans think this war is essential despite thinking it unwinnable and are uncomfortable with too much criticism of a wartime commander-in-chief even though they themselves oppose the war in question.

UPDATE: Some quotes from a formal press release:

* “The survey shows Americans want to win in Iraq, and that they understand Iraq is the central point in the war against terrorism and they can support a U.S. strategy aimed at achieving victory,” said Neil Newhouse, a partner in POS. “The idea of pulling back from Iraq is not where the majority of Americans are.”

* “How Americans view the war does not line up with the partisan messages or actions coming out of Washington,” said Davis Lundy, president of The Moriah Group [the Chattanooga PR firm which commissioned the survey]. “There are still a majority of Americans out there who want to support the President and a focused effort to define and achieve victory.”

* “The key group driving public opinion here are what we call the “nose-holders”, said Newhouse. “They don’t believe we should have gone to war or should still be there, but they believe we should stay and do whatever it takes to restore order until the Iraqis can govern and provide security for their own country.”

All of that’s right, I think, although analysts have a tendency to treat the general public as if they are conducting thoughtful analysis of public policy rather than simply reacting. As a general rule, the public wants politicians to get along and get something done, they hate seeing our troops in harm’s way, they’re skeptical of foreign interventions, and they want America to finish what it starts. The survey reinforces the fact, too, that presidents—even unpopular, inarticulate ones—shape the public policy debate.

* My wife is COO of POS. I got the information as part of a general press announcement of the data. Indeed, I’m told Rush Limbaugh had some of these results earlier today.

** The demographic data looks dead-on, including an almost perfect match of Bush and Kerry voters from 2004.

This content was used with the permission of Outside The Beltway.

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