Iraq War Attitudes

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.
  • 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.

FILED UNDER: Democracy, Iraq War, Public Opinion Polls, Terrorism, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    Or could be some like me who thinks Iraq was a bad idea, but now that we’re there, we need to do our best to finish the job. I don’t think pulling out is the answer as that will leave the Iraqi people to suffer the consequences of our action. For better or worse, Colin Powell had it right – We broke it, we own it.

  2. There’s a breath of fresh air. Thank you James Joyner and thank you DC.

  3. Very strange numbers. I guess it’s a mixed bag for the President, but does give some hope that he can rebound, at least a little.

  4. James Joyner says:

    DCL: Yes, I think that’s likely it.

  5. Wayne says:

    The link didn’t work for me so I not sure where you get that “strong majority think this war is unwinnable.”

    The 67% thinking, “the country is going in the wrong direction” can be misleading. Out of the 67%, a good chunk probably thinks it is getting too liberal and a good chunk thinks it is getting too conservative. The same can be said about the war. Some think we need to pull troops out while others think we need to get more aggressive.

  6. Wayne says:

    I like to see a poll on if people would prefer to have Bush or Gore or Kerry as President now.

  7. James,

    I’m not sure you got the ‘majority think the war is unwinnable’ right, at least in regards to the survey. Question 12 asks if victory is no longer possible. 43% agree and 53% disagree. Given that they defined victory as creating a young stable democracy and reducing the threat of terrorism at home. Those are somewhat high hurdles to clear. A strong man government (aka Saddam but who likes the US) could have been the way we went about getting stability and peace in Iraq, but would be a failure according to that question’s wording. Further, you can debate the short and long term implications of reducing the threat of terrorism at home, but again you could have a peaceful and stable Iraq but not have it reduce the threat of terrorism at home.

    But by the response to that question, the majority think that victory is possible. I’ll certainly grant that the MSM view that they want to push and the democrat’s view that they want to push is that the majority think the war is unwinnable. But that doesn’t make it so.

  8. ic says:

    Hillary: oops

  9. anjin-san says:

    We did break it, but I doubt very strongly that Bush is smart or skilled enough to fix it. I don’t see any road that leads to an outcome favorable to US interests. One thing is for sure, our troops are dying, we are squandering money we need at home, and the people of Iraq are suffering, probably as much as they did under Saddam.

  10. Jared says:

    The results are simple to parse:

    1) America is against withdrawing from Iraq because…

    2) Iraq is the central front on the war on terror and…

    3) While going might have been a mistake, we must take responsibility and treat Iraq as a serious fight that must be won.

    This means that the Democrats are in for a serious backlash, and rightfully so. As more and more news that the surge is working comes in from Baghdad, their position will continue to crumble. The next couple of months will have astounding repercussions on America’s future as well as Iraq’s survival.

    If the President can hold against Murtha and the Dems and force them to overplay their hand and try to cut off funding, the GOP will triumph…and it’s really a question of when, as the Dems are ready to try to commit political suicide as early as next month.

    The numbers here show that when the Dems try to cut off funding, they are going to run into a massive backlash that will cripple them well past 2008.

  11. Stephennnn says:

    The answer to the mixed up results of the polling is quite simple… Americans love to make war…they just hate to lose. It’s sort of like after a football game when the pundits weigh in to explain why the game was lost and keep their rabid fans in a feeding frenzy. The fans, and in this case supporters of the war, want to believe that they are not part of a losing team, especially after so great of an investment in money, blood and emotion has been involved. Of course this administration is avoiding any and all blame and looks for others to blame.

  12. Just a bit off topic but, um, if I were running a public opinion polling company, the first poll I’d take would be: “What do you think POS stands for?”

    And then I’d probably change my company’s name.

  13. Tood says:

    Use these tactics to win debates over Iraq in just 1-2 sentences. They are very effective. The troops in the field need us to cover their backs and fight against the fifth-columnists at home, who want the troops to fail.

  14. Chip Gill says:

    I’m against the war and how it is being conducted simply because we have not shown the naked brutality it takes to convince our enemies that we are willing to kill them in a wholesale manner in order to win.

    It won’t be over until they say it’s over, and they ain’t gonna cry uncle until we demonstrate a willingness to erase them and their weird religion from the face of the earth.

    It has to happen sooner or later, and right now we are simply wasting the lives of our military while treading water and wringing our hands.

    Time to get down to some serious killing.

  15. papertiger says:

    I’m in favor of Bush’s handling of the war, it’s his inviting every Mexican up to the US for a job that I disagree with.

  16. A Sane Person says:

    Chip Gill:

    You’re as crazy as the suicide bombers. And hey, have you signed up for some killing yourself? There’s probably a recruiting station near your house. Too old? How about getting a job with a private security contractor? Yeah, that’s the ticket. Go and slit the throats of some towelheads yourself. Yeah! Would that get you off?


    Oh, and by the way, “POS” is a republican lobbyist/polling firm. Hardly unbiased research. Go to their Web site…they themselves say they are a Republican research firm. Take their survey results with a grain of salt, please…especially since what they’re reporting is contradicted by just about every poll out there…and no, not all of those polling firms are run by dirty hippies and Hollywood elites.

    Get a grip, folks.

  17. Gabriel says:


    I’m surprised you think there are news showing that the surge is working. It’s not and it won’t. Another 20k soldiers are not going to stop a civil war.

  18. nick says:

    Are these the same “people” not voters
    who thought WMD was found?

    you morons are amazing!

  19. Wayne says:

    Here is a reply for those who use the “over 3000 military deaths” as proof that we are loosing the war. Also shows the bias of MSM.

    “The total military dead in the Iraq war between 2003 and this month stands at about 3,133. This is tragic, as are all deaths due to war, and we are facing a cowardly enemy unlike any other in our past that hides behind innocent citizens. Each death is blazoned in the headlines of newspapers and Internet sites. What is never compared is the number of military deaths during the Clinton administration: 1,245 in 1993; 1,109 in 1994; 1,055 in 1995; 1,008 in 1996. That’s 4,417 deaths in peacetime but, of course, who’s counting?”

  20. Stu says:

    Shorter POS poll–George Bush: Great President, or the Greatest President?

    Heckuva straw grasp, guys. Don’t think it’s gonna work, but I give you Bush dead-enders credit for the sheer tenacity with which you clutch your illusions.

  21. Anderson says:

    I wrote a comment about how blatantly leading the poll was, but thought better of it, perhaps out of respect for Mrs. JJ.

    Greg Sargent seems to’ve found a Repub pollster who agrees with me, however, so I’ll just link him.

    I’m sure that, as propaganda, the poll was a great success & just what the client paid for. C’est la guerre, no pun intended.

  22. Gary Denton says:

    Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican PR firm, ran a poll against a probable skewed sample where all the choices were Republican talking points. It is all the Right Media Machine can talk about. The poll, now the bias, of course.

  23. James Joyner says:

    Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican PR firm,

    It’s not a PR firm. They do polling (mostly) and political strategy. This particular poll was commissioned by a PR firm.

    As to bias questions, University of Wisconsin, Madison political scientist Charles Franklin addresses those charges pretty well.

  24. Gary Denton says:

    The wording on his analysis is:

    So we return to the irony. Despite question wording that seems extreme compared to the other pollsters here, POS got at most a 5 point increase in support for keeping troops in Iraq until the country is stable. And the POS question produced very little difference from the average results for immediate or timed withdrawal. So critics who have jumped on the question wording bandwagon may be right about the wording, but they are substantially wrong about the effect.

    One of the most annoying aspects of question wording effects is that sometimes they are large when you don’t expect it, and sometimes they are small even when you are sure they should be large.

    It is similarly ironic that those who delighted in the POS results were oblivious to the fact that there was not really any new news here. Apparently other pollsters from the “drive-by media” and elsewhere had been reporting substantially the same results for a while now.

    Finally, the results of this question are: 49% withdraw immediately or by a deadline, and 50% stay until Iraq is stable. I’d say a 49-50 split isn’t a strong indication of overwhelming support for either side. (There are other questions in the survey that address different issues– some are more supportive of the war and some are less. Towards the high end is “I 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” 57% agree. But also: “Iraq will never become a stable democracy”, 60% agree. Picking which results you like while ignoring the ones you don’t may be good politics but it is bad polling analysis.)

    An online critique of POS states: “the largest Republican polling firm. POS was responsible for the “Harry and Louise” ad in the early 90’s that scuttled Clinton’s health insurance proposals. In 2001, it was charged with violating Virginia’s polling disclosure laws, and it has also been accused of using push polls to influence elections.”

  25. James Joyner says:

    POS was responsible for the “Harry and Louise” ad in the early 90’s that scuttled Clinton’s health insurance proposals.

    POS doesn’t produce television ads. Maybe they focus grouped them?

    In 2001, it was charged with violating Virginia’s polling disclosure laws, and it has also been accused of using push polls to influence elections.”

    Charged and accused?

  26. Dark One says:

    What if Iraq was the United States in 1964?
    February 1, 1964, at the height of segregation in the United States, the British send a military force taking control of the south of the United States deploying forces across Alabama, Tennessee Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida.

    Following repeated warnings voiced in the United Nations and through media outlets, the British rally the support of Spain to create a “coalition of the willing” to oust the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was seen as directly responsible for not fully supporting legislation to implement a Civil Rights Act, in strict violation of the Magna Carta. Visit for the full story!