Commentary Magazine


New Polls on the War

The latest New York Times/CBS News poll brings moderately positive news about public attitudes toward the war in Iraq. For the raw results, click here. For the Times write-up, click here.

The percentage of the public saying that invading Iraq was the correct decision has risen slightly. Forty-two percent now say it was the right thing to do, while 51 percent say we should have stayed out. That’s a shift from the May poll that had found only 35 percent in support of the invasion and 61 percent claiming it was a mistake. In addition, the public assessment of how well things are going in Iraq has turned slightly more upbeat. While only 3 percent think that things are going “very well” (up from 2 percent), 29 percent now think things are going “somewhat well,” a six-point increase from the previous poll. At the same time, the percentage of those saying things are going “very badly” has fallen from 45 percent to 35 percent—a whopping 10-point decline.

It would be a mistake to read too much into these results. It is not, by any stretch, evidence that the public has turned in favor of the war effort. But it is an indication that public sentiment remains a bit unsettled, and that positive news from the front—of the kind we have been hearing increasingly in the past couple of months—can have some impact on the public’s views.

Moreover, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll suggests that most Americans, while in favor of withdrawal, are not demanding a complete pullout. I found these findings, buried deep in the Post article, interesting:

About six in 10 said forces should be withdrawn to avoid further casualties, even if civil order is not restored, and 56 percent want to decrease the forces in Iraq. Both figures are at new highs, but few Republicans agree with either position.

Even among Democrats, there is no consensus about the timing of any troop withdrawal. While three-quarters want to decrease the number of troops in Iraq, only a third advocate a complete, immediate withdrawal. There is even less support for that option among independents (15 percent) and Republicans (6 percent).

If I had to sum up these findings, I would say that, while antiwar forces are still winning the battle for public opinion, an information surge is allowing supporters of the war effort to gain some ground. Whether they can consolidate and even expand these gains remains to be seen. That will turn on how much success American forces have over the next few months. But the war on the home front is not irretrievably lost.