Be Thankful for Democracy

The optimistic title of Jennifer Harper’s article in the Washington Times this morning is “Public Ignores Iraq War Naysayers.” That might be a bit of a stretch, but it certainly is true that the public at large retains a more optimistic view of the Iraq war than the media. Harper cites a recent poll by the Pew Research Survey:

Negative press coverage of the war in Iraq in recent weeks has emphasized rising pessimism among the American public about the conflict. But a new survey found that 56 percent of the public thinks that efforts to establish a stable democracy in the country will succeed.

The survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press — which also plumbed opinions of journalists, university presidents and others in academe, diplomats, government officials, religious leaders, members of the military, scientists and international security specialists — revealed a marked disconnect between the perceptions of the general public and many of the so-called opinion leaders.

When asked whether they thought democracy would succeed in Iraq, only 33 percent of the journalists agreed that it had a chance. The number was even worse in academe — 27 percent of respondents thought the effort would succeed. Among the military, however, the number stood at 64 percent.

Meanwhile, close to half of the American public — 48 percent — think the decision to take military action in Iraq was the right one. *** Among journalists, 28 percent thought the decision was justified. The number was 21 percent among the academic elites and 49 percent in the military.

The public is evenly divided on whether the war in Iraq has helped or hindered efforts to combat terrorism, 44 percent thought the conflict has helped the effort and the same number thought it has hurt. In the press, 68 percent said the war had hurt the effort, and 22 percent said it had helped.

This confirms what we already knew, that the vast majority of reporters and editors are Democrats and are far to the left of the American people as a whole. It’s really the broader aspects of the Pew survey that I want to comment on; coincidentally, I had just read Pew’s report when I came across Harper’s article.

What is striking about the Pew data is that liberal, anti-war attitudes are not unique to “leaders” in the media. On the contrary, if Pew is to be believed, they infect “leaders” of all sorts. See, for example, the responses to the question whether the Iraq war was a mistake:


The media percentages are no surprise, but what about the others? Can it be that military leaders support the decision to oust Saddam by a bare two percent? And that leaders in “security” and “foreign affairs” are almost unanimously against the war? Or, weirdest of all, can it possibly be true that the most antiwar group of all consists of scientists and engineers?

To my knowledge, the engineering profession is not a hotbed of liberalism. So I was curious as to how Pew selected its “leaders” in the various categories. The answer is here:

Foreign Affairs
The Foreign Affairs sample was randomly selected from the membership roster of the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Security sample was randomly selected from a list of American members of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

State and Local Government
Governors of the 50 states were drawn for the sample, as well as a random sample of mayors of cities with a population of 80,000 or more.

Academic and Think Tank Leaders
The heads of various influential think tanks listed in National Journal’s The Capital Source were selected. For the academic sample, officers (President, Provost, Vice-President, Dean of the Faculty) of the most competitive schools overall and the most competitive state schools (as identified in Peterson’s Guide to Four-Year Colleges 2006) in the United States were selected.

Religious Leaders
For the religion sample, leaders of Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim organizations with membership over 700,000 each were sampled. Top U.S. figures in each national body were selected in addition to the leading people at the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.

Scientists and Engineers
The science sample was a random sample of scientists drawn from the membership of the National Academy of Sciences.

The engineering sample was a random sample of engineers drawn from the membership of the National Academy of Engineering.

The military leaders sample was drawn from a Lexis-Nexis search of retired generals and admirals quoted in American news sources in the past year. Also included was a sample of outstanding officers selected to participate in the Council on Foreign Relations’ Military Fellowship program since 2000.

Now the survey’s results are less mysterious. If you define leaders in foreign affairs as members of the Council on Foreign Relations, it is no surprise that surveying the group generates liberal results. (It would be interesting to poll the same people on a question that has nothing to do with foreign relations–say, abortion. My guess is that the results would be identically left-leaning.) Likewise, liberal as academia no doubt is, it would be hard to find a more left-trending group than “officers (President, Provost, Vice-President, Dean of the Faculty) of the most competitive schools.” It’s not hard to see why “military leaders” divide so equally on the war, either; those “leaders” turn out to be mostly the retired talking heads, many with an axe to grind, that we see on television. As for those left-wing engineers, Pew didn’t survey rank and file members, or even the most eminent members, of the profession; rather, their “leaders” are the 2,000 members of a group that exists largely to advise the federal government on issues relating to science. And, as we have noted before, the professional hierarchies of America’s religious denominations are far to the left of their churches’ memberships.

It’s an interesting question why “leaders” of pretty much any group, defined as Pew instinctively (and not necessarily unreasonably) thinks of them, will turn out to be liberals. Pew didn’t survey lawyers, but if it had, it no doubt would have talked to officers of the American Bar Association. Had it done so, it would have concluded that American’s lawyers are even more antiwar than its engineers. And the results would have been little different, I’m sure, if Pew had selected officers of the American Medical Association as representative leaders of the medical profession.

Why are “leaders” so predictably liberal? I’m not sure, but I think it has something to do with O’Sullivan’s Law, promulgated years ago by John O’Sullivan, the former editor of National Review: All organizations that are not self-consciously conservative become liberal over time.

It would be interesting to do a similar survey, but with a different selection of respondents. Military leaders, for example, could be officers who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Religious leaders could be chairmen or presidents of local congregations. “Leading” engineers could be those who have headed major engineering projects within the last twelve months. And so on. Admittedly, there probably isn’t any definition of leadership that would salvage academia or the press, but I think almost any academic group would be closer to the center than “officers of the most competitive schools.”

For reasons I don’t fully understand, there is something about “leaders,” especially self-appointed leaders, and most especially those who are drawn to intensive participation in organizations, that tends toward liberalism. We see this in politics all the time, of course: it is one thing to vote for conservatism, something else entirely to get it from our elected leaders.

All of which makes me especially thankful, this year, for democracy, limited government and free enterprise: the best measures yet devised to protect us from our leaders.


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