BuzzFlash Reader Commentary
October 21, 2002
U.S. Polls: 2/3 Oppose Unilateral Invasion
BUZZFLASH READER COMMENTARY
I CONTINUE TO BE STRUCK by the news media's dishonest reporting of the national polling data on Iraq. For months now, mainstream polls have shown that a strong majority of Americans are firmly opposed to any go-it-alone invasion of Iraq. Yet we've seen countless headlines trumpeting "Majority support for Bush's plans," and endless blather about the "political cost" to any Democrat who might dare to vote "No" on Bush's resolution.
It's baloney. About a third of Americans oppose war in Iraq altogether; about a third of Americans support war in Iraq no matter the circumstances; and the last third would ONLY support a U.S. invasion of Iraq if the United Nations and U.S. allies were along for the ride. That adds up to majority opposition to any unilateral action.
These numbers haven't changed much since this summer, except to get a little stronger in the last couple of weeks. They're reflected in polls by CBS, Washington Post, Pew, Fox News, Gallup, Zogby, ABC, CNN, and more. The "highly contingent" nature of the support (Gallup's term) for military action in Iraq DOES get discussed in the stories the polling groups release with their numbers each week. The latest Gallup report dryly notes that this majority opposition to a unilateral invasion of Iraq is "of course, quite different from the congressional resolution recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives."
(The latest Gallup poll (10-6) shows only 37 percent would support military action by the U.S. against Iraq if it wasn't backed by the U.N. The 10-6 CBS poll shows 63 percent think U.S. needs to "give U.N. weapons inspectors time" and only 30 percent say "take military action soon.")
But, somehow, my fellow Americans' rather sensible desire to avoid a unilateral rush to war gets lost on the way to the front page.
How has this happened? I put a lot of it down to laziness, myself - it's easier just to read the wire stories than to research the poll data itself. And then there's arrogance, combined in a peculiar way with herd instinct - and where are the fact-checking copy editors? But one big reason is surely the disdainful disconnect between Washington editors and reporters and the "real world" of America.
In Saturday's Washington Post, columnist Michael Kinsley says: "The Bush campaign for war against Iraq has been insulting to American citizens, not just because it has been dishonest but because it has been unserious." And then he also berates citizens for their lack of "seriousness," too: "They tell pollsters they favor the Bush policy, then they say they favor conditions such as U.N. approval that are not part of the Bush policy."
But if Mr. Kinsley looked at the polls themselves, he'd see the answers aren't contradictory at all, and it's the reporting of his colleagues that lacks seriousness.
You see, the pollsters don't ask "Do you support Bush's policies?" They ask, first, some variation of "Do you support military action by the U.S. in Iraq to disarm Saddam Hussein?" And, yes, a majority of Americans polled do say they would generally support such action (although that support appears to be weakening). But later in the questionnaire, a strong majority makes it perfectly clear that their support is contingent upon support from the U.N. and our allies.
Visualize the nice lady being asked that first question re: disarming Saddam Hussein. She says: "Well, yes I guess we have to do something, but I don't think we should act alone." The pollster says, "Well, this is a yes-or-no question here, Ma'am, and you'll get to answer a question about waiting for support from U.S. allies and the U.N. later on in the questionnaire." "Well, OK," she says, "I guess that's a yes, then."
And, somehow, this all gets translated into "Most Americans support Bush's plans."
Another example: The SF Chronicle's stupid headline the day of the Iraq vote: "Bay Area out of step in U.S. march to war," in a story equating the local Congressional delegation's likely "No" votes on the Bush resolution with San Francisco's "exceptionalism" and "liberal hammerlock." Excuse me, but in this particular case, just whom are we out of step with? Certainly not the two-thirds of the American people who also want to see any invasion of Iraq contingent on support from our allies and the U.N.
And here's one last head-shaker: Hearst Newspapers columnist Helen Thomas in Sunday's piece properly decrying the "moral implications" of the new Bush policy of pre-emptive, unilateral military action: "Except for [Sen. Robert] Byrd," Thomas writes, "there are few other dissenters in Congress and around the country."
Few other dissenters? I can only assume Ms. Thomas doesn't read the polls...
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