Public Opinion Unchanged by Petraeus Testimony

The American public’s views on Iraq policy are within the margin of error of where they were before the highly publicized testimony of General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker before Congress, two recent surveys show.

A Gallup/USA Today poll compares views right after the testimony to right before:

In the days before Petraeus’ appearances and President Bush’s speech to the nation last week, 60% supported setting a timetable for withdrawal and sticking to it “regardless of what is going on in Iraq at the time.” Now 59% do.


The number of Americans who say it was a mistake to send troops to Iraq ticked up to 58% from 54% in the USA TODAY Poll a week earlier.

Similarly, a new Pew survey shows a longer-term stability:

In the current survey, a 47% plurality says the United States will probably or definitely fail to achieve its goals in Iraq, which is largely unchanged from July (49%). Most important, opinions about whether to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq have not changed at all over the past two months: 54% believe U.S. forces should be brought home as soon as possible while 39% say U.S. troops should remain in Iraq until the situation is stable.

There has been, however, some shift in attitudes on smaller points:

Currently, 41% say the U.S. military effort is going very or fairly well, up from 36% in July. In addition, 31% say that President Bush’s troop increase is making things better in Iraq, which is somewhat higher than in April (24%); however, as was the case in April, nearly half (46%) say the troop increase is having no effect. As is the case with several measures of opinion about Iraq, most of the increases in positive views regarding the surge have come among Republicans.


Notably, the number saying the U.S. is making progress in reducing the number of civilian casualties rose from 21% in July to 37% today — the highest percentage measured since the question was first asked in December 2005. Nearly half of Americans (48%) still believe the United States is losing ground in reducing civilian casualties, though that represents a sharp decline since July (65%).

Over time, though, the trends are clearly away from support for the war and toward some sort of phased withdrawal.

Gallup Opinion Trends Iraq War UPDATE: Ezra Klein points out that the trends have been pretty consistent on this issue since the summer of 2003. That’s an interesting point and one that’s borne out by the Gallup numbers.

What’s especially interesting is that the numbers on both key questions — “All in all, do you think it was worth going to war in Iraq, or not?” and “In view of the developments since we first sent our troops to Iraq, do you think the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq, or not?” — had majorities pointing in the wrong direction in November 2004, when President Bush was re-elected.

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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. legion says:

    But, the nice men on Fox told me that anyone who didn’t believe everything Petraeus said was a dirty hippie commie terrorist!

  2. Tlaloc says:

    I have to admit some confusions as to what republican politicians are thinking. At each point where they could have broken away from Bush’s Iraq policy they have only made some huffing noises and then gotten right back in line behind the president.

    Are they really going to double down one more time on the hope Iraq shows some progress before next November?

    That seems insane and yet I can see no other rationale for their actions. Maybe they’ve been reading their own PR, I guess somebody must since the public clearly isn’t.

  3. Michael says:

    A CBS poll actually shows a slight increase of people wanting a troop reduction or withdrawal.