Sunday, December 2, 2007

Public Opinion Rebounds on Iraq

In a little reported development in the mainstream press, public opinion on the Iraq war is showing continued improvement.

These findings come from
the Pew Research Center's new Iraq poll out this week:

For the first time in a long time, nearly half of Americans express positive opinions about the situation in Iraq. A growing number says the U.S. war effort is going well, while greater percentages also believe the United States is making progress in reducing the number of Iraqi casualties, defeating the insurgents and preventing a civil war in Iraq.

Roughly half of the public (48%) believes the U.S. military effort in Iraq is going very or fairly well. Judgments about the overall situation in Iraq have been improving steadily since the summer. As recently as June, only about a third of Americans (34%) said things were going well in Iraq.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Nov. 20-26 among 1,399 adults, finds that improved public impressions of Iraq are particularly evident when it comes to security-related issues. The number of Americans who say that the United States is making progress in reducing the number of civilian casualties in Iraq has doubled from 21% to 43% since June. The proportion saying that progress has been achieved in preventing terrorists from establishing bases in Iraq is also up substantially, as is the number saying the U.S. is making progress in defeating the insurgents militarily.

However, a rosier view of the military situation in Iraq has not translated into increased support for maintaining U.S. forces in Iraq, greater optimism that the United States will achieve its goals there, or an improvement in President Bush's approval ratings.

By 54%-41%, more Americans favor bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq as soon as possible rather than keeping troops in Iraq until the situation has stabilized. The balance of opinion on this measure has not changed significantly all year. Similarly, Americans remain evenly divided over whether the U.S. is likely to succeed or fail in achieving its goals in Iraq; improved perceptions of the situation in Iraq have not resulted in a changed outlook in this regard. In addition, Bush's overall job approval now stands at 30%, which is largely unchanged since June and equals the lowest marks of his presidency.
While we're seeing positive change, the Pew findings indicate that the public's good and tired of our long slog toward consolidating Iraq's democracy. As casualties continue to decline, however, and as more positive coverage of the war emerges in the press, we should see additional improvement in the polling numbers.

What does continued improvement in Iraq mean for the Bush administration? The Pew summary shows no changes in President Bush's poll standings. Bush has just under 14 months left in office, and while we may not see a dramatic turnaround in his support, things are definitely looking up for the administration.

Clark Judge,
over at the Washington Times, argued earlier this week that President Bush will see a rebound in 2008:

For the more than a year, the Democratic presidential candidates, the mainstream media and the smart Washington money have all assumed an unpopular and discredited George W. Bush would drag down the Republican ticket, making next year's balloting a sure-thing replay of 2006. Now, amazingly, the president may be set for a comeback.

True, Mr. Bush's poll numbers long ago went to where no president — or at least no president ever succeeded by his own party's candidate — had ever gone before, and remained there. The number of Americans who disapprove of his performance has exceeded by wide margins the number of those who approve for most of his second term.

Yet more than two years of bad news for the president may have set the stage for good news in the year ahead. For months now, the president's critics have portrayed him as obstinate, deaf to the calls of the people, bullheadedly unwilling to abandon mistaken initiatives.

Exhibit A has been the war in Iraq. But almost every administration initiative comes in for such an attack. Not a Democratic candidate debate goes by without some reference to the "failed policies" of the current administration.

It has been a powerful narrative. But if the public sees those "failed" policies start to succeed, its understanding of the president could change on a dime. What was once regarded as "obstinate" would become "courageous." What was previously considered "bullheaded" would become "principled" — and "deaf to critics" would become "leadership." This kind of about-face could be in the works now....

In 1987, President Reagan's fortunes were down. The GOP had lost the Senate the year before. Iran-Contra and the defeat of Robert Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court had followed. But then the Soviets started to give way on arms and other agreements, the economy continued to grow despite the October stock market crash and Reagan began the long climb in the polls that helped put the current president's father in the Oval Office.

The same could happen in 2008. Most of the fundamentals are in place. With one or two more developments breaking the president's way, this year's story of the stubborn chief executive could become next year's of a profile in courage.

Who would have thought it possible? George W. Bush becomes Hillary Clinton's worst nightmare.
Now that's something to look forward to!