Friday, March 17, 2006

Three years of opinion on the war

In three years support for the war in Iraq has declined from 70% to just over 40%. Approval of President Bush's handling of the war has fallen somewhat more, to under 40%.

Americans appear to make some distinctions between the justification of the war, its costs and the skill with which the war has been waged. Higher percentages think that “going to war with Iraq” was the right thing, while somewhat smaller percentages think that the costs of the war have been worth it.

President Bush gets still lower ratings for his handling of “the situation in Iraq”, suggesting that the White House has failed to gain the full support of those who still think the war was justified and worth the cost. The President might have been better advised over the past three years, and certainly the last two years, to have embraced the war as his legacy and stressed the importance of “freeing Iraq from Saddam Hussein.” Such a position would not win over those opposed to the war from the beginning, but simply gaining the support of those still convinced we did the right thing would be an improvement in his standing with the public. Instead the White House spent most of 2005 trying to push a domestic agenda which was largely a failure, and in the process distancing the President from the war that, for better or worse, is certain to be his primary legacy. The data suggest the President should have continued to dance with the girl he invited to the prom, rather than trying to find a prettier partner.

Data: The data here are from a number of survey organizations that have asked similar questions about the justification and cost of the war, as well as approval of the President's handling of the war. The question wordings vary, so I've included the text below. The “war worth it” items show the greatest variation, no doubt because some stress the cost in lives while others only ask about abstract costs and benefits.

I have not included data on questions about withdrawal of troops because that series of data is much more limited, while these items span the entire length of the war, providing comparable measures of support for the war over time.

Did right thing/not a mistake” question wording:

ABC/WP: "Considering everything, do you think the United States did the right thing in going to war with Iraq, or do you think it was a mistake?"

AP: "All in all, thinking about how things have gone in Iraq since the United States went to war there in March 2003, do you think the United States made the right decision in going to war in Iraq or made a mistake in going to war in Iraq?"

CBS/NYT: "Looking back, do you think the United States did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, or should the U.S. have stayed out?"

Fox: "Do you think going to war with Iraq was the right thing for the United States to do or the wrong thing?"

Gallup: "In view of the developments since we first sent our troops to Iraq, do you think the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq, or not?"

Pew: "Do you think the U.S. made the right decision or the wrong decision in using military force against Iraq?"

Newsweek: "From what you know now, do think the United States did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq last year, or not?"

Time: "Do you think the United States was right or wrong in going to war with Iraq?"

War worth it” question wordings:

ABC/WP: "All in all, considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States, do you think the war with Iraq was worth fighting, or not?"

CBS/NYT: "Do you think the result of the war with Iraq was worth the loss of American life and other costs of attacking Iraq, or not worth it?"

Gallup: "All in all, do you think it was worth going to war in Iraq, or not?"

NBC/WSJ: "When it comes to the war in Iraq, do you think that removing Saddam Hussein from power was or was not worth the number of U.S. military casualties and the financial cost of the war?"

Bush Iraq Job Approval question wordings are all very similar. The basic phrasing is: "Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling the situation in Iraq?"