Iraq, the Media, and American Public Opinion

I find the results of this poll to be very disturbing. The boilerplate summary:

In particular, it is very surprising to me that over 50% of Americans would still think Iraq had weapons of mass destruction at the start of the war. Given the enormous amount of media coverage that these issues have had recently, I would have expected that this and related views would have become far less prevalent.

I can’t see how this would be the case unless a very large number of people assume that media organizations, as a rule, don’t tell the truth about what is happening in the world. This might be connected to the belief many people seem to have in a “liberal media.” One can plausibly argue that most media organizations show some bias in editorials and how they present stories, and I assumed that this was the worst most people believed. I had interpreted recent studies showing increasing distrust of media organizations in this light.

However, if half of Americans think “clear evidence that Iraq was supporting Al Queda has been found in Iraq,” I think suspicion of the media must go much deeper. I suspect that a very large fraction of the population, when reading a news story that seems to reflect badly on President Bush, must simply assume the story is a lie — a severely distorted version of the facts or even a complete fabrication.

This helps to explain why Bush’s popularity ratings don’t seem to have suffered due to the continuing problems in Iraq. Moreover, in this light certain recent statements by the president make more sense. I had thought Bush’s continuing unwillingness to accept that he was wrong about the threat Iraq posed was making him look increasingly out-of-touch and even silly, but now I see that this isn’t the case. As long as Bush continues to maintain that weapons of mass destruction may still be found in Iraq, a huge fraction of the electorate will continue to believe him regardless of the evidence. If he never admits a mistake, they will assume he has never made a mistake.

I don’t want to give the impression Bush is totally to blame here. This is a reasonable course of action for the president to take considering that the people who believe otherwise mostly wouldn’t vote for him regardless of what he says, and it would be unreasonable to expect any politician to take actions that would reduce his chance of getting reelected.

Unfortunately, I think public opinion in this country has become such that it is less politically damaging for politicians to tell obvious lies about the state of the world and their past behavior than to admit mistakes. This is a recipe for extraordinarily bad policy. Am I totally off base here? If not, is there anything we can do about this?

I mostly agree with your statement that US public is generally skeptical about all information that comes from the media. However, I certainly disagree with your assumption that people in the US are mistrusting media because they trust Bush (or any POTUS). I lived in US for over 15 years and am yet to meet a single person who would say, “Did you hear what the President said? That’s what WE must DO!”, which was a common experience in USSR, where I came from. I think US public is skeptical of Media and President about equally, which is a very good thing.

Regarding Iraq, I was always skeptical myself about claims that “Bush deceived the Nation on Iraq invasion” in general. The way I always saw it, roughly 25% of US public wanted Saddam taken out long before Bush came into office, roughly 25% wanted US to kick some serious Arab butt after 9-11, roughly 25% were against the invasion no matter what, which leaves roughly 25% of US public left to be ‘deceived’. No matter how you phrase it, 25% don’t constitute a Nation.

Let’s look at the poll.

As of now, 19% of ‘die-hards’ still “believe that clear evidence of weapons of mass destruction has been found in Iraq”, while 21% of different ‘die-hards’ didn’t “believe Iraq actually had weapons of mass destruction when the war began” as early as June 2003.

Also, as of now, 40% “believe that what we were told by the government before the Iraq war about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and Iraq’s links to Al Qaeda, the terrorist organization, was generally accurate” (‘die-hards’ must be included here, of course), while 36% found it “misleading” as early as June 2003 (another group of ‘die-hards’ must be included here).

So we have roughly 40% for one side and 36% for the other. That leaves roughly 24% of US public remained to be influenced one way or another. I am pretty sure that the majority of these 24% were making an informed decision on how to regard administration claims regarding Iraq. The poll seems to show that the majority of those capable to change their minds were on the side of the Bush, but was it really the ‘Bush side’?

Don’t forget that before the invasion Media in general was not saying that WMD are not to be found in Iraq; quite the contrary, the general consensus in the Media was that they most certainly are going to be found. Thus, before the invasion Bush message and Media message were not all that different.

I’m all for politicians “to admit mistakes”. However, to expect them to do that in the middle of the election cycle is an extremely wishful thinking, equal only to throwing away a full can of bug repellent in the midst of summer woods in Minnesota.

I never cease to be amazed how many americans still beleive in WMD actually having been found… or that Iraq had them. The AQ and Saddam connection still somehow survives as a “truth”. No wonder Bush hasn’t dropped in polls. Ignorance prevails it seems. Cliché phrases like “stay the course” take the day.

Tis a sad thing indeed. When terrorism comes knockin' again then they might wake up and smell the coffee.

It’s not that surprising. People “believe” it because it makes their idiotic acceptance of the pre-war rhetoric okay. They ignored all evidence to the contrary then, and now that they’ve royally screwed the country they’re just plugging up their ears and chanting “we DID find WMDs” to drown out reality. Anyone who tells them that the AQ links were bogus, that the yellow cake papers were forged (let alone that Bush knew that before the State of the Union), or that the weapons inspectors said there was no justification for war must be a communist infiltrator.

Luckily there’s a way to cure them. We just take everyone who votes for Bush next time around, give them a rifle, and sit their asses in a foxhole in Najaf until the Middle East is a stable society that accepts Western values and freedoms. That’ll let the soldiers come home safely, and get rid of a large segment of our problem right there.

Juan Cole offers an interesting perspective on that today. It’s a matter of faith:

We have our own stable percentages of ‘die-hards’ on the Right as well as the Left, which will never listen to the voice of reason. Every country has such segments of population comitted to a certain cause. I am pretty sure Brazil has too.

What I can’t understand is why do You have such a bif bug up your cloaka about US fringe types. Why do we never hear from You about perversions of Brazilian politics? I’m sure you might tell us something we don’t know. At least we could learn something new about the world, instead of having to refute your un-informed accusations.

I see it as evidence that America has been divided on partisan lines even over simple matters of fact. If the Republican party were to declare tomorrow that henceforth pi = 3.3, I would bet money that 49% of the American public would fall in line behind inexplicably mis-sized circles.

I take it also as further evidence–as if any were needed–that people are, by and large, stupid beyond belief.

I think the reality (and the problem) is that people who participate in forums like this are political junkies. We are typically up on the latest news, have computers (usually with DSL/cable connections), know how to use a search engine and the Internet, and essentially, are interested in the subject. OTOH, the average person doesn’t have the same level of interest and too many are under-educated and do not fully understand all the issues. These people get their political news from the sound bites featured on your average network TV news show (if they watch the news at all) or the headlines of a newspaper (if they even read a newspaper). In general, they know or care little about politics (local/state/national), don’t understand finance or fiscal matters and have little knowledge of international affairs or geography.

There’s really nothing that will change this reality short of requiring testing to be able to vote. Since that is unlikely at best, politicians will continue to be successful at “spinning” the news to best serve their core constituencies and influencing the fence sitters.

Here’s an excellent article that serves to confirm my points above. While this is about kids still in school, remember, these kids will grow up to be adults and unfortunately, some of them will vote and participate in polls, sigh.

The sad thing is that ‘US fringe types’ make up over half the population.

We’re much more polarized as a nation now than in recent years, too. If Republican pols say X, then registered Republican voters believe X. If Democratic pols say Y, registered Dems believe Y. And disbelieve vice versa.

I saw an informal chart recently that showed the potential electoral votes being split almost precisely down the middle, i.e. around the same as four years ago.

People, on the whole, don’t like to admit they may have been wrong, preferring instead to cling to the hope that they may have been right, mounting evidence to the contrary. Since it’s easier to believe what they’ve been believing than to change their minds, they choose the former.

Because Brazilian political perversions stay at home, while US political perversions kill people abroad?

Also very few people would know or care enough to participate and the threads would die a very fast death.

Hey who wants to talk about the Fine Gael Árd-Fheis and the implications to the Irish electorate or maybe we’ll debate the bin tax? :wink:

And now back to your originally scheduled thread.

Yep, we have die-hards too… mostly communist wanna-bes. Some of the perversions of Brazilian politics to get to foreign new sources… but like someone put it well… these perversions don’t upset the whole world or kill foreigners. We could open a thread about Brazilian politics if there were a demand for it… and in the past we did discuss some racial problems in Brazil.

As for your silly "refute your un-informed accusations" did you see the poll above ? I was referring to that poll, so either attack the poll or tone it down. We aren't talking about a "segment of the population" or "US fringe types". We are talking about half of americans beleiving in AQ = Saddam, beleiving in WMD claims and Bush not cherry picking Intelligence. If that is a "fringe" in the US... you got a big big fringe element.

(Yes we have a stupid electorate here too… before you ask. They just don’t take in as much bullshit though. They consume smaller pieces.)

According to the OP poll, we have about 20% pro-war and 20% anti-war under any circumstances. What’s Australian split on this or some other important issue?

Another likely explanation – though maybe not the whole explanation – is that the Right has been buying the playing field thanks to relaxed FCC regulations regarding media ownership. Right wing hate radio, Fox News, the general shift in media ownership to the right … the mass media consistently delivers the right wing message much more frequently and powerfully than the left wing message. Just because WE Internet denizens/news junkies have a clear understanding what’s going on, doesn’t mean the average person who consumes the bulk of his/her news from radio, newspapers and TV does. They may hear the occasional disquieting message about the lack of WMDs, or Osama’s hatred of Saddam, but they hear enough soothing patriot-speak to blanket over it.

I’ve already posted my understanding of the poll above, without “attacking” it. The split of ‘fringes’ on Iraq invasion appears to be roughly 20% pro to 20% contra.

  1. “half of americans beleiving in AQ = Saddam”

Is AQ in Iraq or isn’t it? Forget attacks on US troops for a moment. Let’s go through big suicide bombings against other targets in chronological order. Who blew up Jordanian embassy? Who blew up UN mission headquarters? Who blew up Shiite mosques? Who blew up Kurds? You’d say US invasion brought AQ into Iraq, while 50% of US public think it might have been there before. You think you are right and 50% of US public think they are right. You’d say that under Saddam there was no suicide bombings against Shiite and Kurds and I say that there was no need for them, because Saddam was terrorizing Shiite and Kurds sufficiently. Saddam was terrorizing Shiite and Kurds then, AQ is terrorizing Shiite and Kurds now: just a coincidence? May be so, but don’t say that people have no reasons to believe that Saddam and AQ were connected.

  1. “half of americans … beleiving in WMD claims”

Saddam might have had some WMD before the invasion. Most authorities were saying that he did. He was refusing to come completely clean, so might have been holding something back. Note that the question doesn’t specify what scale were the stockpiles believed to be. Also note that 18% of US public changed their minds on this subject.

  1. “half of americans beleiving in … Bush not cherry picking Intelligence”

There is no question to that effect in the poll. The closest I see is: "“Do you believe that what we were told by the government before the Iraq war … was generally accurate or misleading?” with 40% saying “Generally accurate”, while again 15% changed their minds. Those 40% would include me, too. I looked at “what we were told” and concluded that on the basis of evidence presented, the case for invasion was non-existent. Let me make it perfectly clear: while I thought that the invasion might be necessary, I also thought that the case for it was non-existent. I assume that quite a few people followed a similar process.

You might “believe” that you are smarter than 50% of US public. However, Your “believe” might be quite detached from the reality.

Let’s get right to the source.

Here is Harris Interactive’s report on their own poll.

First off, they interviewed less than 1000 people. They invoke statistical theory to say this should accurately represent public opinion within 3% in either direction. However, they also mention that they do not count people who refused to respond to the phone poll.

IMO, this is far too small a sample for this issue.

Furthermore, in their analysis of the results, they have chosen to lump those who said that “Somewhat Accurate” reflected their response to the question:

“Do you believe that intelligence given before the war to President Bush by the CIA and others about Iraqi’s weapons of mass destruction was completely accurate, somewhat accurate, somewhat misleading, or very misleading?”

If there had only been three responses (“completely accurate”, “somewhat accurate”, “misleading”), I might see how they would group the results this way. However, IMO, the responses “somewhat accurate” and “somewhat misleading” are just glass-half-full-or-empty versions of the same response. In fact, to me, in this context, “somewhat accurate” suggests: “mostly crap with shreds of truth”, and “somewhat misleading” suggests: “mostly correct with some errors of fact”, and that the responses are in the wrong order. 46% of people (the highest bracket) responded “somewhat accurate”. Did they interpret that response my way, or Harris’ way, which seems to imply small deviation from some midline?

With this sort of ambiguity in the phrasing of the question and the spread of the answers, I could easily interpret the selfsame results as “89% of American adults believe that the reports on Iraqi WMD’s were at least partially misleading, with only 5% responding that they were completely accurate.”

But again, the sample number is so small, I don’t necessarily think the survey is indicative of anything very conclusive.

If US will give all its munitions to Brazil and make Brazil the only suoerpower, what will be consequences to the World?

Well, I for one am not at all clear on much of the logic you used above, particularly this extracted statement:

“Let me make it perfectly clear: while I thought that the invasion might be necessary, I also thought that the case for it was non-existent.”

You thought a [very expensive and potentially divisive] invasion of IRAQ might be necessary but that the case for doing so was non-existent? There seems to be a logical disconnect here.

By ‘case for the war’ I meant the justification (casus belli).