The Big Picture(s): Revisiting the media coverage, public opinion [Karl]
Regular pw vistiors know that one of my hobbyhorses is the lack of nuance many have when it comes to interpreting public opinion polls.Ã‚Â Sadly, HotAir’s Allahpundit — a top blogger by most any measure — is a serial offender in this regard (though IÃ‚Â sometimes wonder if the pessimism is synergistic with the directive to drive traffic).
Today, Allahpundit blogs on McCain’s actually innocuous comment about a US troop presence in Iraq:
Ã‚Â The demagoguery has already begun, transparently as a way of pushing the Narrative away from the inconvenient details about casualties being down and the surge working better than the Sage of Chicago, for all his supposed judgment on Iraq, foresaw. CanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t knock the Dems for seizing on it: Even the most recent opinion polls on Iraq are basically impervious to news of progress and the timing is fortuitous for them given the reports about some members of the Iraqi government playing hardball in negotiating the extent of the American troop presence next year.
The eternal question Ã¢â‚¬â€ how much of the imperviousness of those polls is due to insufficient coverage of the progress made?
Having written at some length on the media’s coverage of the Iraq conflict in a series starting with “The Big Picture(s),” I would respond — perhaps surprisingly to some — that Allahpundit is partially misreadingÃ‚Â public opinionÃ‚Â on Iraq and theÃ‚Â dearth of media coverage of progress has not been as large a factor as some might think.
First,Ã‚Â the premise that public opinion is impervious to news of progress in Iraq is overstated.Ã‚Â Looking at the PollingReport link Allahpundit provides shows that public opinion has remained largely unchanged on the questions of President Bush’s handling of Iraq, whether Iraq was a mistake and whether to get out sooner rather than later.
AsÃ‚Â the first twoÃ‚Â questions are asked in most polls, it is impossible to know the degree to which having injected Pres. Bush in the first question affects the answers to the second.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â As for the third question,Ã‚Â a plurality usually falls in the middle, depending on how much choice is allowed by the question.Ã‚Â Otherwise the answer tends to be sooner — which should shock no one; even those who supported the mission would prefer to complete it quicklyÃ‚Â as well asÃ‚Â successfully.
Moreover, there has recently been much hindsight discussion about the wisdom of the administration’s emphasis on WMDs as the primary justification for the invasion.Ã‚Â Regardless of where one comes down in theat debate, the polling on whether the invasion was a mistake is likely fixed for the foreseeable future because the average person polled viewed WMDs as the (prime) reason for the invasion and no stockpiles were found.Ã‚Â The politically-involved can debate the details, or curse those polled for their lack of nuance, but I would suggest that dynamic accounts for the steady polling on the question.
ThoseÃ‚Â questions, however,Ã‚Â do not reflect the entirety of public opinion on the mission in Iraq.Ã‚Â Let’s review the same poll data compiled at PollingReport.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll taken at the end of April shows that 39% think things are going veryÃ‚Â or moderately well in Iraq — an increase of 11% from April 2007.Ã‚Â The ABC News/Washington Post Poll takenÃ‚Â April 10-13, 2008, shows 40% think the US is making significant progress toward restoring civil order in Iraq — an 8% increase from a year ago.Ã‚Â The CBS News Poll takenÃ‚Â March 15-18, 2008 showed 42% thinking the surge had improved conditions in Iraq — up 12% from September 2007.Ã‚Â So the polls are fairly consistent in showing a 10% swing to about 40% thinking the surge is making significant progress.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll takenÃ‚Â March 14-16, 2008 showed 57% thinking the US would likely or certainly win. The USA Today/Gallup Poll takenÃ‚Â Feb. 21-24, 2008, showed that 60% think the US should have a timetable for withdrawal, but also showed 65% thought the US had an obligation to stay to establish a reasonable level of stability.Ã‚Â And so on.Ã‚Â These sorts of numbers buttress the notion that the steady numbers on whether invading Iraq was a mistake reflect a more general opinion, as opposed to an opinion about the current trends.
Furthermore, it is instructive to look at the polling data on what people think the top issues and priorities are for the country.Ã‚Â Iraq now ranks second or third in these questions, in comparison to 2007, when Iraq was generally considered the number one issue.Ã‚Â Some of that shift undoubtedly reflects public anxiety over the economy, butÃ‚Â the current trends in Iraq — and perhaps the dearth of media coverage — are also likely factors.
That being said, if the establishment media gave more time and space to the current trends in Iraq, the polling numbers might well be even better than they are.Ã‚Â But I doubt increased coverage would move the hindsight judgments as much as those about the present and the future.Ã‚Â There may be room for more people to be convinced that the US is making significant progress in Iraq before hitting the ceiling of those fully invested in defeat.Ã‚Â That is one reason we have election campaigns.
Update: Allah-lanche! Shocka!