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December 02, 2005

New Poll Results and Why I Don't Care

California Yankee points out that polls about the war are looking up, and it further shows why I really dislike polls.

Optimism about the War Against Terrorism rebounded smartly in the last month according to Rasmussen Reports polling released today:
Forty-eight percent (48%) [of] Americans now believe the U.S. and its Allies are winning. That's up nine points from 39% a month ago and represents the highest level of confidence measured in 2005.

Just 28% now believe the terrorists are winning, down six points from 34% a month ago.

There is more good news. Forty percent now believe that the U.S. is safer than it was before 9/11. That's up from 34% a month ago. The number who say the U.S. is not safer has declined to 43 percent, down from 50% a month ago.

Forty percent (40%) of Americans now believe that, in the long run, the U.S. mission in Iraq will be viewed as a success. Forty-five percent (45%) believe it will be viewed as a failure. Those figures also show increased optimism compared to last month.

The survey was conducted on November 30 and December 1, following the President Bush's speech outlining the Strategy For Victory In Iraq, and has a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.

Polls often are nothing more than measures of emotion, and sometimes they're asking folks questions outside their area of knowledge. What people, me included, think about whether or not we're winning the war in Iraq or in terror in general is way outside our expertise. All we have to go on are reports and speeches. The news can, and often is, slanted in what is reported and how it is reported. Speeches can be self-serving. That's why polls of public opinion don't generally carry much weight with me. It's more often a measure of how well the PR campaigns are doing.

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index tracked with the rise and fall of gas prices. August was 105.5, September dipped to 87.5, October was 85.2 and November's preliminary number is back up to 98.9. A measure of emotion may be useful in economics for some things, but it seems to me that, generally, measures of emotion that are primarily reacting to $3/gallon gas don't really mean much. Actually, I think they can do more harm than good. There are folks who will immediately say, "prices are too high, government must do...something!" The resulting government action is often more self-serving than economically sound, as I noted with the whole "windfall profit" push against oil companies.

So the public was dour about the war when the Democrats were getting their message out, and now the public's opinion is rising now that the Republicans are getting theirs out. This tells us precisely nothing about the war itself. It is important to have the public behind a war effort, but is by no means a measure of that war's success or failure. And while I'm glad the the public is, in general, coming around to my opinion of the war, in the end, what the poll gives us is more often just a number.

(Apologies to Rick, our resident statistician. My issue is not with the methods, though, just the why's and "what-for's".)

Posted by Doug at December 2, 2005 08:10 PM

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I'm not even sure the "winning" in Iraq can be equated with being "safer" here.

Unless and until we go after all the Islamic terrorists (Iran, Northern Africa, Indonisia, Detroit...) we will still be unsafe - even if we turn Iraq into a sheet of glass.

Posted by: Ellen at December 3, 2005 10:51 AM

I'm sure I'm not the first to offer this up as a theory on "polls," but I believe that they (polls) are merely a regurgitation of "Main Stream" news. More astute observers than myself should be able to pull some stats relating to "where" most people absorb their news and the resulting "opinion" they come up with concerning current events (example: if every major media outlet in the country drones on about how poorly the U.S. is doing in Iraq, it wouldn't take a "poll" to determine what people are going to think of the situation in Iraq. To coin one of my daughter's favorite expressions ... "Well duh!?"

Posted by: Dennis at December 3, 2005 02:00 PM