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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

New, Unhelpful Iraq Polling

Tonight a new Washington Post/ABC poll came out that heavily focused on Iraq policies. But as is often the case, the poll creates nearly as much confusion as it dispels.
Check out these three sections of the poll analysis:

Overall, 55 percent of Americans want congressional Democrats to do more to challenge the president’s Iraq war policies, while only a third think the Democrats have already gone too far….
At the same time, there is no consensus about the pace of any U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq. In July, nearly six in 10 said they wanted to decrease the number of troops there, but now a slim majority, 52 percent, thinks Bush’s plan for removing some troops by next summer is either the right pace for withdrawal (38 percent) or too hasty (12 percent would like a slower reduction and 2 percent want no force reduction); fewer, 43 percent, want a quicker exit….
Only about a quarter of all adults want Congress to fully fund the administration’s $190 billion request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next year, while two-thirds want the proposed allocation reduced, with 43 percent wanting it reduced sharply. (Three percent say Congress should approve no money at all.) Two-thirds of independents want Congress to reduce the funds allocated for the war effort, as do 83 percent of Democrats; 45 percent of Republicans agree.

So: According to this poll, a majority of Americans think Congress is failing to challenge Bush on Iraq; that Bush’s own troop “withdrawal plan” is about right or too fast; and that Bush’s war supplemental appropriations bill should be pared.
The funding numbers are particularly confusing. The actual decision on the table for Democrats in Congress isn’t about money numbers, but about whether they should take a hard-line position against any appropriations that don’t include a binding withdrawal deadline. Ultimately, that means a willingness to embrace a no-appropriations stance that this poll suggests only three percent of Americans support. (In July, a New York Times/CBS poll showed 61 percent of Americans wanted to make war appropriations contingent on a withdrawal timetable, another example of how wording nuances dramatically change opinions).
At OpenLeft, Chris Bowers, as shrewd a poll reader as anyone in the blogosphere, decides to interpret the numbers on Iraq funding in this latest poll as showing “Americans want to defund the war.” Well, that depends on a definition of “defund” that includes any reduction in funding.
Pollsters need to figure out ways to (a) test the Iraq issues actually facing Congress; (b) include in questions a few basic facts about troop withdrawals (i.e., that Bush is only talking about withdrawing “surged” troops) and funding levels (i.e., how much money buys what strategy); and (c) test some dynamic scenarios involding actions by Congress and reactions by Bush (i.e., a protracted funding fight).
Until that happens, new polls on Iraq will provide grist for spin, but not for any honest assessment of where the public is at present.

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