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August 17, 2007

47% of Americans Believe We're Making Progress In Iraq

Which corresponds neatly to the 47% approval for Gen. Petraeus. 49% of Americans don't think we're making progress.

It's getting big buzz that a "majority" of Americans don't "trust" Petraeus' report, but what was the actual question?

53 percent of people polled said they suspect that the military assessment of the situation will try to make it sound better than it actually is. Forty-three percent said they do trust the report.

I'm not sure if it's fair to say 53% don't trust the report because they suspect the military will try to spin the situation as better than it really is. Quite frankly, I suspect the military might do that -- come on, play up good news, play down bad news, emphasize the positive? -- and yet I still "trust" the report. Maybe I'll discount it by 10% or so.

I'm not sure that "trusting" the report is the actual opposite of "suspecting" the military offer some minor spin. So long as the spin is minor, the report is essentially true; and yet it still might not be 100% candid. 90% candor is pretty much the most I hope for in contentious situations.

If CNN was really looking for true opposites, a binary distinction between "trust" and "distrust," they should have just used that language. Of course in that case they would have found far fewer people claiming they flat-out disbelieved a report they hadn't even read yet. So instead they ask about non-opposites -- "trust" versus "suspect" the military may spin -- and report support for the latter as being full-on distrust.

The other question that's getting a lot of scrutiny is the finding that 28% say they may be influenced by the report, whereas 72% say they won't be, no matter what it says. But who are those 72%? Surely they cannot all be people who wish to withdraw immediately; no polls claim that that high a percentage of Americans want such a thing. So the 72% would seem to include some hardcore warsupporters as well, who either will not change their mind because they feel the war is simply not one we can afford to lose or else feel they are already fairly well informed on the current state of the surge and so don't imagine a formal report will actually add much to their understanding.

The media -- and non-media people -- seem to be assuming that 28% consists only of war supporters and the 72% consists entirely of war opponents whose mind cannot be changed.

Depends on how literally people answer questions -- something pollsters aren't really able to determine. Sloppy questions which don't ask specifically what you mean to ask cause this confusion. Are the 28% war supporters who are claiming, dishonestly, that their opinions will change, when in fact it is highly unlikely their opinions could change (i.e., they'll continue to support the war no matter what the report says)? Or are the 28% those who are neither war supporters nor war opponents who are answering honestly when they say their minds could be changed -- and are hence the swing opinion on the subject?

We don't know. It is incorrect, however, by the express terms of the poll, to assume that 28% support the war but might change their minds if Petraeus delivers a negative report, whereas 72% oppose the war and cannot be swayed even by a very positive report from Petraeus. And yet that seems to be how people are reading the poll. Despite the fact the question says nothing of the sort.

Should Have Read the Poll! Geoff says--

The actual poll tells us that of the 72% who say that his report won't influence their thinking, 21% are war supporters.

So, assuming the best, that means that 49% could possibly end up supporting the war after the report (21% who support the war and whose minds cannot be changed and 28% whose minds can be changed.... they say).


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posted by Ace at 03:07 PM

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