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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Mis-Polling Iraq

One of my long-time pet peeves is about how political pollsters often decide to frame important questions in public opinion surveys. Some insist on false choices that simply reinforce stereotypes about candidates and political parties and ignore ambivalent public sentiments that actually influence voting behavior. Some endlessly search for bite-sized policy formulations that poll extremely well, at the expense of larger questions facing the country. And some, in the search for trend-lines, insist on asking the same questions for years even as the context radically changes.It’s this last habit that Chris Bowers skewers at length in an excellent post on MyDD about polling questions on Iraq. Here’s a sample:

Since the start of the war, polling firms have asked the public whether or not they thought the decision to go to war was correct more than five hundred times. Further, in that same time frame, they have asked the public if they approve or disapprove of Bush’s handling of the war more than 1,000 times. By contrast, they have asked the public how long they would like to continue fighting the war only twice. Considering that how long we intend to keep fighting the war is the number one issue when it comes to Iraq right now, it is the responsibility of those who frame the debate to at least pose that question to the American people. That question is a lot more important than whether or not we think what we did two and a half years ago was the right thing to do, because we can’t do anything about that now.

I might add to Chris’ observation that the preoccupation with what we did two and a half years ago isn’t terribly helpful to Democrats, since we were divided on the subject while Republicans were not. Moreover, where you were on the original war resolution isn’t neatly correlated with what you think the U.S. should do today. There are plenty of people who opposed the war but who are reluctant to support a quick withdrawal today. And I personally know a fair number of Democrats who supported the war but now think Bush and Rumsfeld have screwed it up beyond retrieval. I suspect there are a growing number of Republicans who share that view. As Chris says, the only way to find out what Americans want to do now in Iraq is to ask them in a way that explores the real choices.

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