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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

They’re All With Me, Right?

Our fearless leader, George W. Bush, says: “Bring ’em on”, secure in the knowledge that the great American public stands right behind him, ready to support the noble mission in Iraq, no matter what it takes. 
Or are they?  Someone should tell fearless leader, he of the schoolyard rhetoric, that the public is getting pretty restless as the chaotic situation in Iraq continues, casualties mount and questions about why we went to war–and whether we got the whole truth from the administration–intensify.  According to the latest Gallup poll, the number saying the Iraq situation was worth going to war about is down 20 points since April 9 (from 76 percent to 56 percent), while the number saying the Iraq situation was not worth going to war about is up more than 20 points (from 19 percent to 42 percent).  If present trends continue, we could see an even split on this question very soon.
The poll also finds that 37 percent now believe that the administration deliberately misled the American public about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.  And twice that number–75 percent–say that it would matter a great deal (53 percent) or a moderate amount (22 percent) if they were convinced the Bush administration had deliberately deceived them on this issue.
Data from a just-released poll by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes suggest that much of the public could be moved in that direction.  In that poll, 42 percent are already willing to say that, when the US government presented evidence to justify going to war with Iraq, it was being misleading.  On the specific issue of the WMDs, 62 percent say that the government either stretched the truth (52 percent) or presented evidence they knew was falso (10 percent).  And on the Saddam-Al Qaeda link, 56 percent believe the government either stretched the truth (46 percent) or presented evidence they knew was false (10 percent).
These data suggest that the public is starting to lose faith that the Iraq war was worth it and that the Bush administration was straight with them about the need to go to war.  And, contrary to conventional wisdom, these data suggest that such loss of faith may  wind up having real political consequences.  
Perhaps it already is.  The President’s personal high standing on a number of important indicators has sunk to unimpressive levels.  Just 50 percent claim he has a clear plan for solving the country’s problems, compared to 47 percent who think he doesn’t.   Only 54 percent say he is a person they admire (down 10 points since the beginning of May), while 45 percent say he is not a person they admire.  And 57 percent now say he cares about the needs of people like you (down 8 points since early April), compared to 42 percent who say he doesn’t.
But perhaps the most interesting finding is this: At the end of January in 2002, 71 percent said they agreed with Bush on the issues that mattered most to them.  Today, that’s down a whopping 18 points to just 53 percent who say they agree with Bush on the issues that matter most, compared to 46 percent who say they disagree. These figures are very similar to the ones Bush received on this indicator in August of 2001, right before September 11. 
Guess not everybody’s with Mr. “Bring ’em on” after all.