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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Reality Sets In

Yesterday, DR reported on data from the December 30-January 1 Time/CNN poll that suggest Bush’s bounce from the capture of Saddam may already be evaporating. This should come as no surprise since the rate at which US and allied forces are suffering casualties has not declined since Saddam’s capture. If anything, it has gone up. This is not exactly what the public had in mind.
Actually, signs of public unease with the effect of Saddam’s capture on the Iraq situation and on the war on terror had already emerged before Christmas, according to the CBS News/New York Times poll. For example, right after Saddam’s capture, those saying his capture would decrease attacks against US troops in Iraq outnumbered those saying his capture would increase such attacks by 24 percent to 19 percent. By December 21-22, those numbers had reversed: by 25 percent to 20 percent, the public felt attacks against US troops were more likely to increase than decrease. More dramatically, right after Saddam’s capture, the number saying his capture would increase the threat against terrorism was about equal to the number saying his capture would decrease that threat. But, only a week later, twice as many were saying Saddam’s capture would increase, not decrease, the terrorist threat (31 percent to 15 percent). And, intriguingly, by a wide margin the public said US priorities should be to focus on finding Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda members, rather than focus on dealing with Saddam and Iraq (61 percent to 24 percent).
Finally, other data from the Time/CNN poll suggest some of Bush’s key vulnerabilities outside of Iraq continue unabated. For example, 57 percent of the public agree Bush is “out of touch with the problems people like you face in their daily lives”, compared to 40 percent who say he is in touch (this indicator is more lop-sided among political independents: 60 percent to 37 percent). In addition, 57 percent believe Bush “pays too much attention to big business”, compared to 35 percent who don’t (63 percent to 29 percent among independents). And the majority of the public, for the first time, says Bush “hasn’t paid enough attention to the country’s most important problems” (52 percent), while 45 percent say he has the right priorities (54 percent to 42 percent among independents).
Perhaps the punditocracy was a bit premature in declaring Bush’s re-election assured after Saddam’s capture.