Latest Polling: It's All About Iraq genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak

Time is running out

Despite the GOP's best efforts to divert attention from the war in Iraq, the latest poll from The New York Times / CBS News clearly shows that the lengthy conflict is the dominant issue on voter’s minds as we approach the midterm election. As I've pondered the John Kerry dust-up, my suspicion is that it will merely serve to motivate those on both sides of the issue but do little to change the minds of any voters. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that opinions about the war have been in place far too long to be vulnerable to the misspoken remarks of a single Senator.

The poll found that just 29 percent of Americans approve of the way President Bush is managing the war in Iraq, matching the lowest mark of his presidency. Nearly 70 percent of Americans said Mr. Bush did not have a plan to end the war, and an overwhelming 80 percent said Mr. Bush’s latest effort to rally public support for the conflict amounted to a change in language but not policy.

The poll underlined the extent to which the war has framed the midterm elections. Americans cited Iraq as the most important issue affecting their vote, and majorities of Republicans and Democrats said they wanted a change in the government’s approach to the war. Only 20 percent said they thought the United States was winning in Iraq, down from a high of 36 percent in January.

Fifty percent of independent voters, a closely watched segment of the electorate in such polarized times, said they intended to vote for the Democratic candidate, versus 23 percent who said they would vote for a Republican.

Among registered voters, 33 percent said they planned to support for Republicans, and 52 percent said they would vote for Democrats.

There has long been a belief that voters pay little attention to politics until just before each election and I concede that there is some truth to that presumption. Nonetheless, I also think there is a mistaken tendency to generalize that observation to all elections and all situations related to all elections. I've stated previously that voters have a jurors mentality when it comes to the government...they realize that the players are suspect, they hesitate to jump to conclusions, but once they've had a sufficient opportunity to scrutinize all of the pertinent evidence, they speak their minds clearly and firmly. I believe Iraq fits into this equation perfectly and I view the consistently negative polling regarding the war as the proof that voters are prepared to be heard on the issue.

Coming at the conclusion of a contentious midterm campaign, voters said that neither Democrats nor Republican had offered a plan for governing should they win on Tuesday, the poll found. Yet Americans have some clear notions of how government might change if Democrats win control of Congress: Beyond a quicker exit from Iraq, respondents said they thought a Democratic Congress would be more likely to increase the minimum wage, hold down rapidly rising health and prescription drugs costs, improve the economy and — as Republicans have said frequently in these closing days of the campaign — raise taxes.

By a slight margin, more respondents said the threat of terrorism would increase under Republicans than those who said it would increase under Democrats.

Nearly 75 percent of respondents — including 67 percent of Republicans and 92 percent of Democrats — said they expected Americans troops would be taken out of Iraq more swiftly under a Democratic Congress.

Forty-one percent of respondents said they expected troop levels in Iraq would decrease if Democrats win, while another 40 percent said the party would seek to remove all troops. Forty-one percent said they expected troop levels to remain the same if Republicans win, while 29 percent said they thought the United States would send more troops in if the Republicans continue to control Congress.

I think there is an overlooked consideration that merits discussion. Note that voters expressed beliefs about how each party might act with regards to Iraq should they be in power. That makes sense to me but it fails to discern the full thinking of voters. By that I contend that voters realize that giving Democrats control of the House and possibly the Senate won't result in any immediate change of course in Iraq...but that's part of the appeal and the calculation. If they put Democrats in a position of power whereby the Democrats might be able to scrutinize and oversee the actions of the Bush administration it is reasonable to expect that the war effort will garner a broader evaluation which might lead to a new strategy that could alter the troubling status quo.

I think that argues that even more voters than those polled...particularly independent voters and those who have yet to fully make up their mind as to how to vote...are going to break strongly towards the Democrats as a simple matter or prudent practicality. The data suggests that most voters have concluded what each party will do regarding Iraq if they are in power and that will lead large numbers of moderate voters to opt for change on the predominant issue of this election.

It also seems sensible to surmise that the President's most recent focus on the war in Iraq and his return to the previous success of tying it to the war on terror is going to fail this election. I say as much because Iraq is now voter's singular priority such that they cannot overlook the need for a change in strategy despite concerns about other lesser issues. Iraq has become such a prevailing issue that it appears poised to skew all other considerations.

Those who suggest that the midterm will not be a referendum on Iraq and George Bush fail to realize that voters cannot reasonably conclude that Republican candidates can or will break rank with the Bush administration to implement a change in our war strategy...which means local issues or even other national issues are going to be relegated to the back burner and votes are going to be cast almost wholly upon beliefs about the handling of Iraq. I'll go out on a limb and predict that the analysis on election night will quickly focus on one theme...It's all about Iraq, stupid.

Daniel DiRito | November 1, 2006 | 7:23 PM
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