November 28, 2007

Downplaying The Shift In Public Opinion

The media appears to be spinning at warp speed today, as Pew announces its polling data on the war. The recent and remarkable reversal in Iraq has made an impression on the public, with double-digit changes to the assessment of military efforts. At the Washington Post, that news gets buried on page A10 with a headline that focuses on the popularity of the war -- a headline that belies the reporting over which it sits:

The debate at home over the Iraq war has shifted significantly in the two months since Gen. David H. Petraeus testified to Congress and President Bush ordered the first troop withdrawals, with more Americans now concluding that the situation on the ground is improving.

A new poll released yesterday underscored the changing political environment, finding the public more positive about the military effort in Iraq than at any point in 14 months as a surge of optimism follows the rapid decline in violence. Yet Bush remains as unpopular as ever in the survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, and the public remains just as committed to bringing U.S. troops home.

The evolving public attitudes reflect, or perhaps explain, a turn in Washington as well. While Bush and Congress are still fighting over the war, the debate has moved to the back burner as Iran, spending, health care, the economy and other issues generate more political energy. The focus of the presidential campaign, especially on the Democratic side, has broadened as well. Even antiwar groups that once denied that security has gotten better have recalibrated their arguments to focus on the failed efforts to reach political conciliation among Iraqi factions or the risk of war with Iran.

The shift has strategists in both parties reevaluating their assumptions about how the final year of the Bush presidency and the election to succeed him will play out. If current trends continue, Iraq may still be a defining issue but perhaps not the only one, as it once seemed, according to partisan strategists and independent analysts, particularly if the economy heads south as some economists fear.

Got that? The Post wants to warn everyone that they need to find some other doom-and-gloom scenario for the upcoming election. Iraq will not play out as badly as the Bush administration's critics and war opponents had hoped. Let's badmouth the economy instead!

Pew's polling shows a significant shift in public opinion, and not just in the military progress. Instead of a 2-1 split in February claiming that the military effort was not succeeding, it is now tied 48-48 -- an 18-point improvement in positive assessment. The percentage of those who feel that the US is defeating the insurgents in Iraq increased 13 points to a virtual 43%-44% tie with the naysayers. The number of Democrats acknowledging success doubled from 16% to 33% between February and November.

Even in political areas, which the Democrats have tried to hammer in the Iraq debate, Pew reports that Americans see a slightly rosier picture. A strong plurality believe that infrastructure rebuilding has improved, 46%-30%, a gain of six points since February and ten points since June. Those seeing progress in establishing democracy have grown three points, enough for a virtual tie with those who don't. A majority continues to see progress in training Iraqi security forces, up from 42% in June.

A majority believe that troops should return home, but somewhat less pronounced than in June, when the spike in casualties got reported. At that point, withdrawal had a 56-39 lead, while now it's at 54-41. The numbers have narrowed as the casualties have dropped, and could go up again if casualties increase, without doubt. However, the trend shows why the Democrats have mostly surrendered on forcing withdrawal dates in their funding packages. The political impetus for such action has lessened -- and with the new security partnership promising a substantial withdrawal in any case, they have no need to take the political risk.

When the rise in opposition to the war got reported before, the numbers made front page news. Their decline gets mid-section commentary, spun with economic speculation. Anyone see an agenda at play here?

Jules Crittenden has more. (via Instapundit)


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