The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll data are here. The Post’s headline, of course, is alarmist: “Most Think Truth Was Stretched to Justify Iraq War”. As usual, the facts are more interesting than the headlines.
This is a “randomly selected adults” poll, not one of likely voters, so feel free to disregard its findings entirely. Still, in my view, the conclusions are worth considering. Respondents approve of President Bush’s job performance by a narrow 52% to 49% margin. Nevertheless, they favor John Kerry over Bush by 51% to 43%. This is partly due to the fact that the good news about the economy hasn’t sunk in; Kerry leads on this issue by 49% to 41%. Still, despite everything, respondents approve of Bush’s handling of terrorism by a striking 64% to 34% margin.
By a narrow 52% to 45% margin, Americans view Bush as “honest and trustworthy;” this is far down from his peak, and presumably reflects months of “Bush lied!” propaganda by the the press. Still, given the current onslaughts, it could be worse.
By 66% to 30%, respondents say President Bush’s National Guard service is “not a legitimate issue” in the campaign.
The news on Iraq is mixed. By a slight margin, a plurality says the Iraq war was not worth fighting. On the other hand, and seemingly inconsistently, Americans think the war has contributed to our long-term security, by a 58% to 38% margin.
Most interesting to me is this question: “Do you think Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction that may not be found, or do you think Iraq did not have any weapons of mass destruction?” The response: 61% say Iraq “did have weapons,” while only 33% say Iraq “did not have weapons.” And 57% say that the Iraq war can be justified, even if WMDs are never found. I would infer that the public will be receptive to the administration’s defense on this issue, if only the administration would start articulating a defense.
And finally: for the current news cycle, at least, this seems to me to be the bottom line question: “Regardless of whether or not it exaggerated the evidence, do you think the George W. Bush administration honestly believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, or not?” In response, 68% say yes, 27% say no. So the vast majority of Americans believe that if we went into Iraq on erroneous premises, the mistake was innocent–and, as noted above, contributed to our long-term security.
There is a lot of material in these public perceptions for a competent re-election staff to work with. Whether that will happen is, unfortunately, a wide open question.
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