avatar
The Crap that Fills Americans’ Minds


Once again, and for the countless time, Wednesday’s release of (what was billed as, anyway) a major survey of American public opinion by the The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press was far more interesting for what it betrayed about the kinds of ideas and images circulating within the mainstream U.S. political culture, than for any specific finding reported therein.


Titled Foreign Policy Attitudes Now Driven by 9/11 and Iraq Eroding Respect for America Seen as Major Problem (Aug. 18—though for the sake of printing this document, I’d recommend you look at the PDF version of it instead), the publication of the study was accompanied by the release of a short commentary by the Council on Foreign Relations, “On Foreign Policy, Red and Blue Voters Are Worlds Apart” that itself only added to my conviction about the dismal state of public beliefs in the States—and therefore the world, given the scope of American Power today.

(Quick aside: The last time I troubled myself to look at a document freshly minted under the auspices of the Council on Foreign Relations, it was the very hefty one titled Iran: Time for a New Approach (July 19, 2004), jointly authored by the CFR’s so-called Independent Task Force, which included such career mandarins of American Power as Zbigniew Brzezinski and Robert Gates, a former Director of the CIA. I’ve been wanting to ZNet blog this whole Iran deal at least for the past month—specifically, Washington’s belligerent and often ominous tone toward the regime in Tehran. Unfortunately, right here, right now, isn’t the place or time.)

Anyway. The CFR commentary on the Pew study asserts that (p. 38 of the PDF):

Realpolitik does not play well with the American public, either. Americans overwhelmingly believe that morality should influence foreign policy decisions. Roughly three-quarters of the public say that “moral principles” should be the guiding light in U.S. foreign policy.

Would anyone care to respond to this assertion? On the face of it, I’m not certain who it reveals to be more screwed up: The “American public”? Or the CFR’s authors, Lee Feinstein, James M. Lindsay, and Max Boot?

Or how about this passage from the same commentary (p. 39 of the PDF):

Will the U.S. be safer and more prosperous if it is feared, or if it is loved? Are America’s military strength, and the willingness to use it, what count most, or is America’s reputation abroad equally important?

For now, swing voters may be leaning toward Kerry’s side of the debate. They accord much higher importance to strengthening the United Nations and improving America’s relationship with its allies than Bush supporters do. This suggests that the task facing the president is either to persuade these voters that hard power is what will keep them safe or convince them that he too understands the importance of soft power.

Would anyone like to take a crack at explaining the point of view that these CFR authors betray? Isn’t this very much the same point of view that is a lurking background assumption behind the whole Swift Boat Veterans For Truth-kind of attacks on the Democratic Party’s candidate for the presidency—not to mention the kind of defenses the candidate’s supporters have marshaled? (Or martial. Whatever the case may be.)

Feared? Loved? Reputation? “America’s military strength, and the willingness to use it”? “[T]he task facing the president is either to persuade these voters that hard power is what will keep them safe or convince them that he too understands the importance of soft power”? The Pew study itself lends no clarity to these questions. At least not in its own terms. As a matter of fact, by going into them much more deeply, it only confuses them that much more.

The U.S. print media haven’t been much help in straightening out the Pew findings, either. Thus, for example, the New York Times reported that (Brian Knowlton, “U.S. Voters Show Concern Over Security and Foreign Affairs,” Aug. 19—for a copy, see below):

The threat of terror continues to deeply mold public attitudes on the use of force and the extent of homeland protection measures. While 3 in 10 Americans said that the federal government had gone too far in restricting civil liberties as part of moves meant to fight terrorism, 5 in 10 expressed concern that it had not done enough to protect the country.

”There are a lot of places in the poll where you can see that the shock of Sept. 11 is just a central concern for the American public,” Mr. Mead said.

One of those appeared to be the belief, held by 43 percent, that torture could sometimes be justified by circumstances, a number that is notable considering the prison abuse scandal in Iraq.

Carroll Doherty of the Pew Center said that the public clearly wanted both stronger relations with allies, as Mr. Kerry has promised, and tougher measures against terror, a notion more associated in the public mind with Mr. Bush.

”The public doesn’t see any contradiction there,” he said. ”They want both.”

Or in the Washington Post (Robin Wright, “How U.S. Fares in Iraq May Swing Voters,” Aug. 19—see below):

Foreign policy and national security concerns are considered more important by Americans this campaign year than at any time since the Vietnam War, and perceptions of success or failure in Iraq could be dominant in swaying swing voters in November, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

About 41 percent of those surveyed considered international issues such as the war in Iraq and terrorism the most important problems facing the country, while about 26 percent felt economic issues were most vital, according to the Pew survey, conducted in association with the Council on Foreign Relations.

“Barring a sizable shift in public opinion over the next few months, the 2004 election will be the first since the Vietnam era in which foreign affairs and national security issues are a higher priority than the economy,” the Pew report concluded.

But like much of the electorate, swing voters — those who are not committed to either candidate, including many in battleground states — were split over which candidate is stronger on foreign policy and terrorism, the survey found. Swing voters tended to agree more with Democrats on foreign policy issues, but their opinions were closer to Republican positions on combating terrorism, pollsters said.

Actually, the sense of overall confusion was captured best (at least in what I’ve seen) by the Chicago Tribune, which reported (Stephen J. Hedges, “Terror, war top voter issues in survey,” Aug. 19—see below):

The Bush and Kerry campaigns have made it clear they will continue to promote martial themes through the election. The strategy, according to Peter Feaver, a professor of political science at Duke University, reflects both concern among voters and a practical political calculus within each campaign.

“I think it’s an artifact of two things,” Feaver said. “One is the real-world situation, not just post-9/11, but the fact that we’re in the middle of two pretty significant wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that are both gripping. . . . The second factor, which of course is reflecting the political reality, is that both parties are making a concerted effort to play on national security.”

Feaver added, “It’s part of the party calculation, frankly, that there’s a real chance that there could be a terrorist strike again between now and the election, and no party wants to get caught off guard talking about school lunch programs.”

Of course, it’s always possible that there is some conflict between deeply-held, indeed, absolutely bedrock, humanly intuitive beliefs, on the one hand, and all of the rhetorical crap in and through which the human is compelled to find its flesh and bone incarnation in contemporary America—and for which the phrase “martial themes” is a pretty good approximation. But this sort of thing aside, it is as if, at the national political level, no one is afforded so much as a square foot of solid earth on which to stand that has not been militarized, that has not been enlisted in this or that American war—the “War on Terror,” the war over Iraq—and that does not betray the profound commitment to violence that seeps into everything American—in exactly the same insidious manner that the generations of toxic chemicals have.

Perhaps the whole Pew Research Center/Council on Foreign Relations complex are long overdue for some decontamination, and could really use some cleaning up?

But how about the rest of America?

(About which: More another time.)

FYA (For your archives”): Am depositing here a small sample of mainstream U.S. wire-service and print media reports on the Pew Research Center’s August 18 analysis of American public opinion.—Maybe the Pew Research Center’ Director Andrew Kohut summed it up best when he told the Los Angeles Times: “What surprised me most [about the survey] is just how clearly we can see these two counter-patterns—success in the war on terror and disappointment with the war in Iraq” (Aug. 19). Only problem is, what Kohut is summing up here is a state of utter confusion—the one overarching pattern that would seem to subsume all of the other counter-veiling patterns underneath it.

United Press International
August 18, 2004 Wednesday
HEADLINE: Poll: Iraq war will cast deciding vote
BYLINE: By MARIE HORRIGAN
DATELINE: WASHINGTON, Aug. 18 (UPI)

Foreign-policy issues have jumped to the forefront of voters’ minds for the first time in several decades, but while Americans appear more aware of their standing in the world community, opinions remain polarized along strict party lines.

The war in Iraq — and how things advance in the next several months — also remains a decisive element in November’s presidential election in a contest of policy over leadership, a poll released Wednesday indicated.

A study by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, in conjunction with the Council on Foreign Relations, found that for the first time since the Vietnam War respondents cited international issues as the biggest problem facing the United States.

Forty-one percent of those polled pointed to the war, foreign policy and terrorism as the country’s most important issue, while 26 percent said economic issues topped the list. It was the first time since the mid-1970s that international issues trumped domestic ones.

But the overall view of the major issues, including the war in Iraq, is temperate, pollsters said.

The poll reflects an electorate looking for “Goldilocks foreign policy,” said CFR Vice President Jim Lindsay — not too hot but not too cold.

The issue comes down to “cautiously decisive vs. decisively cautious,” he said, in a division clear along partisan lines. Nearly equal numbers of respondents said it was important to be cautious — 66 percent — as decisive — 62 percent. But three-quarters of Republican respondents described decisiveness as a top foreign-policy value, while a majority of Democrats called for caution in policy.

Like most other surveys, the Pew poll found the majority of respondents unhappy with the course of action in the war in Iraq. Fifty-two percent of respondents disapproved of Bush’s handling of the situation, while they were almost evenly split over whether the war helped or hurt the war on terror. Nearly six out of 10 respondents said they did not think Bush had a clear plan to successfully finish the war in Iraq, but the majority — 54 percent — said troops should remain in the country until the situation has stabilized.

The overall numbers belie divisiveness among Democrats and Republicans. More than eight out of 10 Bush supporters said the war in Iraq has been a positive step in the war on terror, while nearly two-thirds of Kerry supporters said it was detrimental.

Seventy-nine percent of respondents who said they intended to vote for Bush said he had a clear plan for the war’s endgame, while 94 percent of those who plan to vote for Kerry said he did not.

The war in Iraq has crystallized votes for Kerry, according to Lindsay. Without the issue, “He wouldn’t be able to close the gap” with Bush. Moreover, voters’ positions on Iraq have not changed despite several high-profile developments such as the transfer of authority to an interim government and reduced war coverage on network TV news stations.

Other key issues remained unchanged, said CFR Senior Fellow Lee Feinstein. Americans remain committed to a morally based foreign policy, with seven out of 10 calling it the top priority for U.S. foreign policy.

The poll also indicated continued support for military spending, rejection of isolationist policies and the desire to stick out the war in Iraq until it is brought to a successful conclusion.

The majority of respondents also supported the so-called Bush doctrine of pre-emption, while a full 60 percent could justify the use of torture, even after the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. One-third of respondents said they thought torture was never justified, and antipathy to torture was stronger among Democrats and independents than among Republicans.

The findings are based on a telephone survey conducted July 8-18 with 2,009 U.S. adults. It has a margin of error of up to 3.5 percentage points.

Differing party members also agreed on the United State’s reputation in the world community. In total, nearly seven out of 10 respondents reported they thought the United States was less respected worldwide.

A plurality of Republicans — 47 percent — said the United States was less respected in the world, while 80 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of independents agreed.

What the poll highlighted, however, Feinstein said, was a “generalized public debate over hard power vs. soft power.”

For respondents, the importance of the U.S. reputation around the world depended on party affiliation. While 56 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of independents said the country’s loss of reputation was a major problem, 22 percent of Republicans identified it as such.

The findings also indicated that while almost every issue fell according to party lines, the all-important independents fell closer to Democrats than Republicans. Although they constitute a slight margin, independents may likely decide the election in such a deeply partisan environment.

In the final analysis, Pew Director Andrew Kohut said, Bush continues his monopoly on leadership qualities — but it is Kerry’s policies that respondents preferred. With independents trending toward the Democratic side, “The only thing Bush can do is make people less comfortable with Kerry as a leader,” he said.

Associated Press Online
August 19, 2004 Thursday 4:34 AM Eastern Time
HEADLINE: Poll: Voters Eyeing National Security
BYLINE: WILL LESTER; Associated Press Writer
DATELINE: WASHINGTON

Concern about national security is dominating public attention in the final months of the presidential campaign because of continuing fears of terrorism and unhappiness about the war in Iraq, according to a poll released Wednesday.

“For the first time since the Vietnam era, national security issues are looming larger than economic issues in an election year,” said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

Such issues as war, terrorism and foreign policy were named as the most important facing the nation by four people in 10, while one-fourth of those polled said economic issues were most important. In January, national security issues were even with economic issues in this poll.

The last election year when national security issues were rated the most important was 1972, according to Pew’s analysis of its own and Gallup Poll data going back half a century.

It’s unclear whether the security focus is of more benefit to President Bush or Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.

Among the sentiments that would seem to favor Bush:

– Nine in 10 say taking measures to protect the United States from terrorist attacks is a top priority.

– Six in 10 say the use of military force can sometimes be justified against countries that may seriously threaten this country but have not attacked.

– Bush is seen as stronger on handling terrorism than Kerry.

Others would seem to favor Kerry:

– Two-thirds are worried about a loss of respect internationally by the United States and most think that is a major problem.

– Six in 10 say the Bush administration is too quick to use force rather than trying harder for diplomatic solutions.

– People were more inclined to say that foreign policy should take allies’ interests into account than to say foreign policy should be based mostly on U.S. interests.

The poll found that 43 percent feel the use of torture is sometimes justified and another 21 percent say it is rarely justified.

“The reason why we have all those people saying we can do some torture is because they continue to be scared,” Kohut said. “That fear factor is what Bush has going for him.”

As Kohut sees the election: If it were decided purely on terrorism, Bush would likely win; if it were decided purely on the economy, Kerry would likely win.

“In a sense, Iraq has become the trump card,” he said.

When people are asked who would do a better job of handling Iraq, Bush and Kerry are tied, according to the Pew poll.

“Even though Bush’s approval rating on Iraq is pretty miserable (43 percent approve), Kerry has yet to make that issue work for him,” Kohut said.

He said Wednesday at a briefing at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York that Kerry had some success at his convention but “in the end, he has to make some progress on Bush’s most vulnerable foreign policy problem – Iraq.” The poll was conducted by the Pew Research Center in association with the council.

Bush’s problems in Iraq include a death toll nearing 950 U.S. soldiers, a violent insurgency against the new Iraqi government and U.S. forces, and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, which was among the central justifications for the president’s decision to go to war.

But Kerry has struggled with stating his position on Iraq, defending his vote authorizing the war while criticizing the Bush administration’s conduct of the war and difficulties in postwar Iraq.

Democrats say Kerry has a “nuanced position” and Republicans call the Democrat’s position a series of flip-flops.

National polls have shown the overall race remains close, with Kerry slightly ahead in some surveys.

The Pew study was based primarily on a poll of 2,009 adults taken July 8-18 with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points and a second poll taken in August. The second poll of 1,512 adults from Aug. 5-10 has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The August poll was taken to provide updated findings on Iraq and the president’s job approval rating, which remains in the mid-40s.

Chicago Tribune
August 19, 2004
CAMPAIGN 2004
Terror, war top voter issues in survey
By Stephen J. Hedges
Washington Bureau
Published August 19, 2004

WASHINGTON — For the first time since the Vietnam War era, voters consider terrorism, war and foreign policy the most pressing issues facing the country, and they do so by a large margin, a development with strong implications for the presidential election.

Forty-one percent of eligible voters believe national security and foreign policy are most important, according to a poll released Wednesday by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. In contrast, 26 percent said the economy was the most important concern and 26 percent cited other domestic issues.

The result, which reflects the opinions of about 2,000 voters questioned in early July and another 1,500 earlier this month, suggests that concerns over Iraq and terrorism could play a significant role in the choices voters make in the Nov. 2 election.

In recent campaigns, foreign policy has taken a back seat to the economy and other domestic issues. But the prospect of another terrorist attack in the U.S., the large-scale deployment of American troops overseas and the uncertain outcome of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are apparently behind a steady increase in concern among voters in recent years about national security.

“In 1996 it was 5 percent and in 2000 it was 12 percent,” said Pew center director Andrew Kohut, referring to voters who listed war, terrorism and foreign policy as their top concern. “It’s pushing higher … and I think it’s going to continue.”

In addition, two-thirds of those surveyed said they were worried about a loss of international respect for the U.S.

Surveys by other polling organizations also have suggested that national security is an issue of increasing influence in the presidential race, and the campaigns of President Bush and Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) have adjusted strategies to the trend.

Kerry strongly emphasized his military service and national security themes at the Democratic National Convention in July, and Bush is expected to stress similar themes at the Republican convention.

The new poll shows greater voter concern about national security than do other recent surveys.

For instance, a mid-July poll by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research found that 17 percent of voters were most interested in hearing about the candidates’ plans to deal with the war on terrorism, while 34 percent wanted to hear solutions on “domestic issues” and 26 percent wanted the campaigns to address jobs and the economy.

Another July survey conducted by The Washington Post found that 19 percent of voters thought terrorism was the most important issue facing the nation, another 19 percent said Iraq was their biggest concern and 29 percent cited the economy. Combined, terrorism and war in that poll would approach the Pew figure of 41 percent.

The Bush and Kerry campaigns have made it clear they will continue to promote martial themes through the election. The strategy, according to Peter Feaver, a professor of political science at Duke University, reflects both concern among voters and a practical political calculus within each campaign.

“I think it’s an artifact of two things,” Feaver said. “One is the real-world situation, not just post-9/11, but the fact that we’re in the middle of two pretty significant wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that are both gripping. . . . The second factor, which of course is reflecting the political reality, is that both parties are making a concerted effort to play on national security.”

Feaver added, “It’s part of the party calculation, frankly, that there’s a real chance that there could be a terrorist strike again between now and the election, and no party wants to get caught off guard talking about school lunch programs.”

But the Pew results do not offer a clear signal on which candidate benefits.

Voters give Bush increasingly high marks, for instance, when asked whether they approve of his handling of terrorist threats. Fifty-eight percent questioned in the Pew-CFR poll said they approved of the president’s performance in combating terrorism.

Iraq is another matter. A majority of voters, 53 percent, said they backed Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq. But that is far less than the 74 percent who gave that response in March.

At the same time, 52 percent disapprove of the way Bush is handling the war today, compared with 43 percent who approve of the president’s actions.

Whether those sentiments could help Kerry is unclear, though the poll suggests that undecided voters are more aligned with Kerry’s supporters on Iraq.

For instance, the survey found that 79 percent of Bush supporters believe the president has a clear plan for Iraq’s future and 94 percent of Kerry supporters think the president does not. Among swing voters, 62 percent side with the Kerry supporters who believe the president has no clear plan.

“Iraq has become the trump card,” Kohut said. “Though Bush’s approval rating on Iraq is pretty miserable, Kerry has yet to make that issue work for him.”

The survey also found that Republican and Democratic voters, not just the presidential candidates, are sharply divided on the question of how the U.S. is regarded in the world.

Among Republicans, 63 percent said the U.S. is more important and powerful than it was in the past, compared with 38 percent who thought that way just before the Sept. 11 attacks. Just 32 percent of Democrats, on the other hand, feel that the U.S. is more powerful today, the same result the poll registered in early September 2001.

A full 67 percent of those questioned said the U.S. is less respected in the world today. However, 80 percent of Democrats said the U.S. is less respected and 47 percent of Republicans felt that way. A large number of Republicans, 34 percent, also felt the U.S. is as respected today as it has been in the past.

The survey, taken after several months of intensive media coverage of the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. military personnel in Iraq, also found that 43 percent believe that the torture of captives can sometimes be justified. A majority, 53 percent, believe that torture should rarely or never be used.

Polling was conducted July 8-18 and July 30-Aug. 12. There was little difference in the responses given during the two survey periods.

Los Angeles Times
August 19, 2004 Thursday
Home Edition
SECTION: MAIN NEWS; National Desk; Part A; Pg. 12
HEADLINE: THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE;
Voters Worried About America’s Global Image;
Poll shows eroding support for the war and dissatisfaction with Bush’s foreign policy.
BYLINE: Tyler Marshall, Times Staff Writer
DATELINE: WASHINGTON

For the first time since the height of the Vietnam War, America’s relations with the world loom as the most important issue for voters in the run-up to the November presidential election, according to a poll released Wednesday.

Although the survey found that supporters of President Bush and Democratic challenger Sen. John F. Kerry were sharply divided in their views on a range of foreign policy issues, there was no indication either candidate enjoyed a significant advantage.

“There’s good news for both and also warning signs for both,” said James Lindsay, vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

The survey, conducted by the Washington-based Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in association with the Council on Foreign Relations, suggested that eroding voter support for the war in Iraq and a significant level of dissatisfaction with the Bush administration’s overall conduct of foreign policy could hurt the president in November.

However, Bush scored far better on his separate handling of the war on terrorism — an issue judged by voters as more important than either the Iraq war or general foreign policy.

Although the Bush administration has consistently tried to link Iraq with the war on terrorism, the Pew survey indicated voters see them separately.

“What surprised me most [about the survey] is just how clearly we can see these two counter-patterns — success in the war on terror and disappointment with the war in Iraq,” said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Center.

Some involved in the survey said data suggested Bush’s strength on the terrorism issue could be enough to compensate for his weaknesses elsewhere.

“Without the war on terror, Kerry would be far ahead,” said Walter Russell Mead, a senior fellow on U.S. foreign policy at the council and an advisor for the survey.

Offering encouragement for Democrats, the poll found evidence that more Americans than ever before were “acutely aware of — and worried about — the loss of international respect for the United States,” an issue that would seem to play into Kerry’s campaign pledge to restore America’s global image.

The data also showed that a sizable majority of swing voters shared the attitudes of Kerry supporters on the issue.

Lindsay, the council’s vice president, said weakening support for the president’s handling of the war in Iraq posed broader electoral dangers to Bush, raising questions about his leadership on other issues.

Lindsay argued that this already was happening on perceptions of Bush’s handling of the economy and on his overall management of foreign policy.

The poll found that a dwindling majority of voters still believed going to war in Iraq was the right decision but that a similarly narrow majority — 52% — disapproved of the way Bush was handling the conflict.

At the height of combat operations in March 2003, 77% approved of how the president was handling the war, the survey said.

Figures also indicated that 44% of voters believed the Iraqi invasion hurt rather than helped the United States in the war on terrorism.

After the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, 22% of those questioned held that view.

On a variety of other issues, the survey reflected deep and growing divisions between Republicans and Democrats, offering additional evidence of a highly polarized electorate.

The most dramatic differences occurred in views on America’s global standing, with 80% of Democratic voters and three-quarters of independents saying the U.S. was less respected today than in the past, while less than half of the Republicans surveyed shared that sentiment.

In one of the more provocative results, the survey found that a majority believed that the use of torture against suspected terrorists could be justifiable, although 15% said such tactics should be used rarely.

“People see someone who’s trying to prepare terrorist weapons of mass destruction as someone who is already breaking worse laws than torture,” Mead said.

The New York Times
August 19, 2004 Thursday
Late Edition – Final
SECTION: Section A; Column 1; Foreign Desk; Pg. 10
HEADLINE: U.S. Voters Show Concern Over Security and Foreign Affairs
BYLINE: By BRIAN KNOWLTON; International Herald Tribune
DATELINE: WASHINGTON, Aug. 18

For the first time in decades, foreign affairs and national security issues have emerged in the American presidential campaign as greater concerns among voters than economic matters, according to a new survey.

The survey released Wednesday by the independent Pew Research Center, found that 4 in 10 Americans now cite international and defense issues as the most important problems confronting the country. Only 1 in 4 mentioned economic concerns.

Not since 1972, during the Vietnam War, have security concerns and foreign affairs issues dominated at this point in a campaign, the survey’s authors said. The survey suggests that views on Iraq and the administration’s success or failure in overcoming violent opposition there could decisively influence the race between President Bush and Senator John Kerry, according to the Pew director, Andrew Kohut.

This could make Iraq a ”tipping point” or a ”trump card” in the coming campaign, he said.

The study found that Americans’ views on Iraq and other foreign policy issues have diverged to an unusual level, reaffirming the notion that on those issues the candidates will have to fight for support among small numbers of undecided voters.

For example, Republican support for the Bush doctrine that pre-emptive war can be justified against potential enemies has grown (to 88 percent from 79 percent last year) while Democratic support for it has fallen (to 44 percent from 58 percent).

Nearly the same number of Americans said they favored a ”cautious” foreign policy as a ”decisive” one.

”The debate about whether it is better to be loved or feared is shaping up as a major issue,” said Lee Feinstein, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, which collaborated on the Pew study.

The Pew Center, relying in part on data from past Gallup polls, said that security and foreign affairs issues dominated all campaigns from 1948 to 1972. But beginning in 1976, a year after the fall of Saigon, economic issues took over. That trend peaked in 1992, when Clinton campaign aides were instructed, ”It’s the economy, stupid.” Voters that year cited economic concerns 18 times as often as foreign and security matters.

The poll was conducted by phone from July 8 to July 18 among 2,009 Americans. Smaller samplings followed early this month. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

The lessons of the survey offer each camp some encouragement, said Walter Mead of the Council on Foreign Relations.

While Americans give Mr. Bush higher marks on the campaign against terror, and 9 in 10 say that protecting the United States from terrorist attack is a top priority, ”Kerry has a lead when you ask which is better on foreign policy,” Mr. Mead said.

Pew and other polls give Mr. Kerry an advantage on the economy. But on the question of who would do a better job of handling Iraq, the two candidates are tied, the Pew poll found.

If the troubles in Iraq have fueled a rising preoccupation with foreign affairs, recent economic improvement could explain the relative decline in concerns on that front.

Mr. Kerry has repeatedly criticized Mr. Bush, saying the president has lost millions of jobs, and has said that he would do better. But Mr. Bush has pointed to the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs and has said more are coming.

The threat of terror continues to deeply mold public attitudes on the use of force and the extent of homeland protection measures. While 3 in 10 Americans said that the federal government had gone too far in restricting civil liberties as part of moves meant to fight terrorism, 5 in 10 expressed concern that it had not done enough to protect the country.

”There are a lot of places in the poll where you can see that the shock of Sept. 11 is just a central concern for the American public,” Mr. Mead said.

One of those appeared to be the belief, held by 43 percent, that torture could sometimes be justified by circumstances, a number that is notable considering the prison abuse scandal in Iraq.

Carroll Doherty of the Pew Center said that the public clearly wanted both stronger relations with allies, as Mr. Kerry has promised, and tougher measures against terror, a notion more associated in the public mind with Mr. Bush.

”The public doesn’t see any contradiction there,” he said. ”They want both.”

The Washington Post
August 19, 2004 Thursday
Final Edition
SECTION: A Section; A06
HEADLINE: How U.S. Fares in Iraq May Sway Swing Voters
BYLINE: Robin Wright, Washington Post Staff Writer

Foreign policy and national security concerns are considered more important by Americans this campaign year than at any time since the Vietnam War, and perceptions of success or failure in Iraq could be dominant in swaying swing voters in November, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

About 41 percent of those surveyed considered international issues such as the war in Iraq and terrorism the most important problems facing the country, while about 26 percent felt economic issues were most vital, according to the Pew survey, conducted in association with the Council on Foreign Relations.

“Barring a sizable shift in public opinion over the next few months, the 2004 election will be the first since the Vietnam era in which foreign affairs and national security issues are a higher priority than the economy,” the Pew report concluded.

But like much of the electorate, swing voters — those who are not committed to either candidate, including many in battleground states — were split over which candidate is stronger on foreign policy and terrorism, the survey found. Swing voters tended to agree more with Democrats on foreign policy issues, but their opinions were closer to Republican positions on combating terrorism, pollsters said.

The survey included a number of danger signs for Bush, however, including among swing voters.

On Iraq, more than a month after the transfer of political power to an interim government, the survey found that about half of Americans surveyed — 52 percent — disapproved of the president’s management of Iraq policy. Overall, 58 percent said the Bush administration did not have a “clear plan” for bringing Iraq to a “successful conclusion” — a proportion that grew among swing voters, to 62 percent.

On eight of 11 foreign policy issues in the poll, “opinions of swing voters are closer to those of Kerry supporters than to those of Bush voters,” the report said.

“Dissatisfaction with Iraq is shaping opinions about foreign policy as much, if not more than, Americans’ continuing concerns over terrorism,” the report concluded. “Continuing discontent with the way things are going in Iraq underlies public criticism of the Bush administration’s overall approach to national security.”

At the same time, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) is not yet succeeding in convincing swing voters that he provides a viable alternative vision, the pollsters found.

“Iraq could be the tipping point,” said Pew Director Andrew Kohut in an interview. “But even though things are bad in Iraq . . . Kerry hasn’t made the sale on Iraq either. People are not more likely to say they have confidence in him than they have confidence in Bush, whom they disapprove of.”

The poll was conducted among 2,009 adults from July 8 to 18, with an update on Iraq conducted Aug. 5 to 10 among 1,512 adults. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.5 percentage points for the entire survey and 3.5 percentage points for questions based on answers from one of the two survey periods.

The survey found a sharp increase in the number of Americans who expressed doubts about whether the Iraq campaign has helped the war on terrorism: 45 percent said it has helped, down from 62 percent in February.

About six in 10 Americans said Bush has been “too quick” in wielding military force, and a third said he made sufficient attempts to achieve diplomatic solutions, a proportion that has dropped by almost half since the onset of the Iraq war, the poll found. Kerry has focused on both issues in his criticism of Bush during the campaign.

Despite the tribulations of U.S. policy on Iraq, 54 percent said they favored staying in Iraq until the situation has stabilized. And six in 10 Americans supported Bush’s controversial policy of preemptive strikes against perceived threats, even if the United States has not been targeted.

The survey found that 64 percent believed there were at least some circumstances in which torture is justified against suspected terrorists.

Kohut said that four in 10 people polled cited international and defense issues as most important was a striking departure from recent trends. In 1996, 5 percent of respondents in similar polls said they were basing their decisions on foreign policy or national security, a proportion that rose to 12 percent in 2000, he said.

Leave a comment