Friday, May 19, 2006

Opinion polls and the war on terrorism

The latest US opinion polls suggest that only 31% of Americans support George Bush. Only 39% now support his decision to intervene in Iraq compared to 47% in January. He has even lost support among conservatives – according to one pollster his approval among gun-owners and evangelicals has fallen to 50% or less. His lax spending and immigration policies are unpopular among even conservatives. A discussion of the issues troubling Americans is here but the standout issue is Iraq – 59% of Americans believe the decision to invade Iraq was a mistake. Bush’s unpopularity limits his ability to manage Congress. Indeed the Republican Party is in trouble.

Internationally too President Bush has few allies. One key ally is our own Prime Minister Howard (who, by my judgment, is doing reasonably well in local opinion polls). Another ally is UK Prime Minister Blair who, however, is facing similar problems to Bush – only 29% of the British population are reasonably confident Blair is taking the right decisions. Blair will quit in July 2007 while President Bush will remain president until January 2009.

The Economist’s editorial remarks on the Bush/Blair partnership and on the triumphant reaction of leftwing critics to their crumbling ‘Axis of Feeble’ are interesting:

‘Critics of the improbable partnership—those who think Mr Bush and Mr Blair overreacted to September 11th, lied their way into Iraq, trampled over law and liberties and inflamed the very clash of religions that Osama bin Laden was so keen to ignite—will rejoice. In a world of one superpower, some say, people are safer when its president is too weak for foreign adventures. They are wrong.

That Mr Bush has made big mistakes in foreign policy is not in doubt. He oversold the pre-war intelligence on Iraq, bungled the aftermath, betrayed America's own principles in Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, ignored Mr Blair's pleas to restart peace diplomacy in Palestine. But America cannot fix any of these mistakes by folding its tents and slinking home to a grumpy isolation. On the contrary. In his belief that America needed to respond resolutely to the dangers of terrorism, tyranny and proliferation, Mr Bush was mainly right. His chief failures stem from incompetent execution.

What is required when Mr Bush's term ends is a president no less committed to the exercise of American power when it is necessary, and no less willing to rise to external threats. Perhaps that will be a John McCain or a Hillary Clinton. But in the meantime, the world won't wait. However weak he is at home, Mr Bush still has duties abroad. He must ensure that America is not bundled out of Iraq before its elected government has a chance to stand on its own feet. He must hold the line against a nuclear Iran. He needs to push harder for an independent Palestine, continue the fight against al-Qaeda, resist Russia's bullying of its neighbours and help America come to terms with a rising China. If he is wise, he will work harder than before to enlist allies for these aims, even if America must sometimes still act alone. But it will be harder and lonelier without a confident Tony Blair at his side’. (my emphasis).

I agree. President Bush’s opposition to terrorism is sound but the terrorists, by killing innocents and conducting a blood-based propaganda war designed to wear down US public opinion are winning. The political left who delight in a naïve anti-Americanism, and those on the right who confuse a difficult military experience ex post with poor judgement ex ante, are not helping the legitimate fight against terrorism. The point is to separate legitimate criticisms of the Bush administration (and there are many) from falling victim to terrorist propaganda tactics.


civitas said...

Let's try to separate the issues here to see what's actually happening.

On immigration:
The dissatisfaction that conservative republicans are expressing for Bush is very real. But these people don't have anywhere else to go in Nov as democrats would be even less likely than repubs to do much to stem illegal immigration. Conservative republicans, including gun owners and evangelicals, are NOT going to vote dem in Nov over illegal immigration. I believe that on this issue, support for Bush could go to zero among conservatives, and they'd still vote repub in Nov. When looking at poll numbers, the piece that's always left out is what's the alternative. On immigration, those unhappy with Bush are unhappy that he isn't doing much MORE to stop illegals, not that he isn't following the dems on the issue.

On spending:
Much the same. Conservative repubs are unhappy that Bush is allowing congress to spend too much. These people also won't vote dem in Nov as the dems would spend even more. Again, the polls don't ask what's the alternative?

On Iraq:
The decision to go to war is always an awful one to make. Polls reflect that. But the dems voted to go to war too, so they'll likely not benefit in Nov from this issue. Those 59% who say the believe going to war was a mistake cannot go to the dems on this issue. The polls of course do not ask about that.

Remember, polls have HUGE shortcomings. It wasn't that long ago that polls were giving Kerry the 2004 presidential election by a wide margin, even exit polls on election day.

hc said...

civitas, I hope you are right. But there is a tide of anti-Americanism sweeping the world much of it in my view resulting from a successful propaganda effort by terrorists. When terrorists kill innocent civilians in Iraq the blame is being put on the US.

My fear is that the critics of the US will get what they want

civitas said...

Harry, there' no way to stop people from blaming the US when terrorists kill people anywhere. If people want to let terrorists kill people and then blame someone else for the terrorists' actions, there's little anyone can do about that.
How seriously should we even consider the views of people who are so confused about what's going on? Think about it. If I told you that every time OBL kills people, I'm going to blame you for it, wouldn't you think I was slightly off my rocker?

hc said...

civitas, Its not only the terrorists who are irrational but also left-wing (and some conservative) commentators in the US and Australia. The war in Iraq has not gone to plan and military and civilian casualties mount. These deaths are in the main caused by an insurgency that seeks to deny Iraqis the right to choose the government they want.

I agree with you - blaming the US is flawed - but that is the ethic driving opinion.

I think at least these views need to be countered. Even if they are irrational.

civitas said...

Harry, I understand that there are some irrational people out there. My question was, and is, how much credence should we give to their opinions? Whether they are terrorists or commentators? The fact is, they are irrational, and therefore, at least in my view, their views aren't worthy of consideration.

No war ever goes to plan, it's the nature of war. Would the insurgency, who does seek to deny Iraqis the right to choose the government, suddenly change their minds and stop the campaign to prevent democratic selection of a government in Iraq if the coalition suddenly left Iraq? My view is no. They'd be more likely to step up their campaign under those circumstances.

Irrational views are not driving all opinion. Only the opinions of some. And honestly, if anyone's views can be driven by the irrational, how seriously should those views be taken?

You counter irrational views with reality. There is no other method, no propaganda, no fancy tactics. Just reality. I actually have faith that there are a lot more rational people out there than you seem to think. And I think we'll find, as Iraq makes progress on the government front, which it is, that the hysterical irrational types will get more and more shrill. After all, they cannot afford for the Iraqi people to be successful, every one of their "arguments" goes out the window if the Iraqis establish a stable, democratic government.

Patrick said...

HOw much credence should we give;;;?

None, except they are unfortunately nearly half the bloody population - it's enough to make one wish for the marxist revolution!

(Assuming I succeeded in getting out :) )

But civitas, don't forget the importance there of actually motivating voters!!

civitas said...

patrick, I don't think the irrational are half the population. I do think the irrational perhaps get more than their fair share of media time. And maybe that makes it look like the irrational have larger numbers.

Some voters will be moved to vote by irrational forces. But look at it this way, the most irrational of all forces currently eating up lots of media time in the US is Kos. And he's backed 16 candidates for various offices, with money, with workers, with a LOT of time, and not one of them has actually been elected. I may have too much faith in average folks, but I think average people can spot the irrational a mile away.

Patrick said...

Yes, I tend to agree, and 'half' was probably an overstatement. But it does concern me how much of the educated population shows so little sign of education - see eg the widely held belief that social programmes matter more than the economy, despite economic well-being (on a national scale) being, it seems to me, necessarily logically prior to effective social programs.

Just an example - on the whole, I do share your faith in 'the majority'.