Sunday, March 30, 2003

# Posted 2:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WAR POLLS: Gallup has the latest. Support for the war is holding steady at above 70% in spite of a marked decrease in public optimism about the war. This strongly suggests that the American public did not/does not support the war because of false expectations about the ease of victory, even if it might've had such expectations. (Gallup didn't say that, of course. It's an OxBlog editorial comment.)

As I see it, the public's memory of Vietnam is just as strong as that of the media. The public, however, has drawn different lessons from it. Whereas the media is committed to a constant search for evidence of a quagmire, the public recognizes that war is hell and that things often go wrong. But you can't back out at the first sign of danger. If the cause is just, the public will stand behind the government.

There are those who do not support the war, however. Among there American public, there are significant divides along the lines of race, party, gender and class. The black-white divide is most striking. Whereas as white support the war 78-20, blacks oppose it 69-28.

78 percent of men favor the war compared to 66 percent of women. There was a similar gap during the first gulf war. 93 percent of Republicans support the war, compared to 66 percent for independents and 54 for Democrats. Finally, only 58 percent of Americans with a household income of less than $30,000 support the war, compared to 78% for all others.

The obvious question, of course, is to what degree such categories overlap. Does lower support among Democrats and those with incomes below $30,000 simply reflect the anti-war sentiment of poor black Democrats? Or are there significant numbers of poor white Democrats, poor white Republicans, rich black Democrats and rich Black republicans who oppose the war as well? Without answering that question, one cannot know whether race, class or party is responsible for the divide.

Unfortunately, Gallup doesn't provide a break down of the numbers. It does, however, provide the results of a multivariate analysis designed to answer the same question. This analysis shows that race is the most significant factor, but that party and class matter as well. Gender is irrelevant despite the 12 point divide mentioned above.

More interestingly, it turns out that -- far and away -- the single best predictor of support for the war is whether or not one approves of Bush's leadership as President. According to Gallup,
The single greatest predictor of views on the war is one's rating of President Bush, suggesting that to a significant degree this has become "Bush's war."
Phrasing it that way sounds rather snide, sort of like saying that Vietnam was Lyndon Johnson's war. But Gallup does offer a less partisan explanation as well:
The stronger influence of presidential approval can be probably explained by the reality that most Democrats and independents who support the war also approve of Bush, while most Democrats and independents who oppose the war also disapprove of Bush's job performance.
There are a number of ways of interpreting that statement. First, that if one trusts the President on Iraq, then party affilitaion doesn't matter. Alternately, pre-existing resentment of the President has made it impossible to persuade certain Democrats and independents to support the war.

I sense there is some truth in both arguments. However, it would be interesting to know if the pro/anti-war divide reflects different views of how America should interact with the world, not simply attitudes toward the President. Are anti-war Americans the strongest supporters of multilateralism and of the United Nations? Are they willing to support the use of force only in the event of an attack on the American homeland? If so, they have good reason to disapprove of Bush, whose position on these is issues is diametrically opposed to their own.

As you may have noticed in my earlier comments on opinion polls, I have a fair amount of confidence in the reasonableness of the American people. Their (our) opinions are derived from coherent conceptual frameworks, not emotions and propaganda. While trust and resentment have a powerful influence on politics, beliefs usually matter more.

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