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June 27, 2006

Polling on a Timetable for Withdrawal

The national polls released over the last few weeks have included a flurry of new or updated questions on proposals to set a "timetable" for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.  Back in December 2005, I noted that while attitudes about the wisdom of the War and Bush's performance on Iraq were mostly consistent, questions about what we should do next in Iraq were highly variable.  I argued at the time that wide variation indicated an underlying uncertainty about what the U.S. Iraq policy should be.  Looking at the questions pollsters are now asking about prospective Iraq policy, I see fewer differences and far more consistency, a finding that may reflect a gradual hardening of opinion.

Today I explored some of the recent questions on the Polling Report, and despite some important variations in question language and wording, their results are reasonably consistent.  Support for some sort of timetable or withdraw varies between 47% and 54%.  Some of these differences are meaningful, but the range is still not much different than the  3% margin of error reported for most of these surveys: 

ABC News/Washington Post - Some people say the Bush Administration should set a deadline for withdrawing U.S. military forces from Iraq in order to avoid further casualties. Others say knowing when the U.S. would pull out would only encourage the anti-government insurgents.  Do you yourself think the United States should or should not set a deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq?  (June 22-25, 2006, n=1,000 adults)
47% Should
51% Should not
1% unsure

USA Today/Gallup Poll - Here are four different plans the U.S. could follow in dealing with the war in Iraq. Which ONE do you prefer? Withdraw all troops from Iraq immediately. Withdraw all troops by June 2007, that is, in 12 months' time. Withdraw troops, but take as many years to do this as are needed to turn control over to the Iraqis. OR, Send more troops to Iraq  (June 23-25, 2006, n=1,000 adults).
17% Withdraw immediately
33% Withdraw by June 2007   
41% Take as long as needed
8% Send more troops
1%  No opinion
50% Total: Withdraw immediately or within 12 months
49% Total stay s long as needed or send more troops

CNN/ORC - Here are four different plans the U.S. could follow in dealing with the war in Iraq. Which ONE do you prefer? Withdraw all troops from Iraq immediately. Withdraw all troops by June 2007, that is, in 12 months' time. Withdraw troops, but take as many years to do this as are needed to turn control over to the Iraqis. OR, Send more troops to Iraq (June 8-11, 2006, n=1,031 adults)
18% Withdraw immediately
29% Withdraw by June 2007
42% Take as long as needed
6% Send more troops
1%  No opinion
47% Total: Withdraw immediately or within 12 months
48% Total stay s long as needed or send more troops

Pew Research Center - Do you think the U.S. should or should not set a timetable for when troops will be withdrawn from Iraq?"  (June 14-19, 2006, n=1,501 adults)
52% Should
42% Should not
2%  Get out now (volunteered)
2%  Unsure

MP reader JB emailed to ask about the apparent conflict between some of these results and another question also asked on the most recent USAToday/Gallup poll (June 23-25, 2006):

Which comes closer to your view? Congress should pass a resolution that outlines a plan for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq (or) decisions about withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq should be left to the president and his advisers.
57% Congress should outline a plan
39% Leave decision to president/advisers
4% No opinion

This is a different question:  It focuses as much on who should make the decision as on the timing of withdrawal.  It is also vague about that timing of a withdrawal and is arguably a bit double-barreled.  Suppose you oppose withdrawing troops in the next year but also oppose leaving all decisions to the president and his advisors.  How would you answer the question?   Keep in mind that on the preceding question on the very same survey, 49% of Gallup's respondents said they wanted to send more troops or wanted to let withdrawal take "as many years as are needed." In other words, some of the 57% who said "congress should outline a plan" in this question also opposed withdrawing troops immediately or in the next 12 months.

But back the fundamental question:  Two polling organizations - the Pew Research Center and CBS news - have also tracked two similar but more vaguely worded questions about how soon the U.S. should withdraw troops from Iraq:

CBS News - Should the United States troops stay in Iraq as long as it takes to make sure Iraq is a stable democracy, even if it takes a long time, or should U.S. troops leave Iraq as soon as possible, even if Iraq is not completely stable (6/10-11/06, n=659 adults)
48% Stay as long as it take
46% Leave ASAP

Pew Research Center - Do you think the U.S. should keep military troops in Iraq until the situation has stabilized, or do you think the U.S. should bring its troops home as soon as possible?   (June 14-19, 2006, n=1,501 adults)
50% Keep troops
45% Bring home
5% Unsure

On these vaguer questions, support for bringing troops home sooner rather than later is slightly lower, but only by a few percentage points.  There are many possible explanations for the small differences among these questions, but focusing too narrowly on these discrepancies misses the larger point:  Americans are divided almost down the middle on how quickly to withdraw from Iraq, and their attitudes on this question may be hardening. 

Consider the question asked by ABC News and the Washington Post (the first one cited above).  It defined the argument for a timeline narrowly (proponents favor it "in order to avoid further casualties") and was the only question to offered an explicit counter-argument: "Others say knowing when the U.S. would pull out would only encourage the anti-government insurgents" Back in December, that counterargument helped convince 60% of the Post/ABC respondents to oppose a timetable for withdrawal of forces (38% supported it).  Now 51% oppose and 47% support - a result much closer to that of other surveys. 

Looking at the other questions that have tracked attitudes on withdrawal or setting timelines, I see no apparent trend since late 2005 (more on that tomorrow).  Only ABC/Washington Post shows a sharp increase in support for withdrawal.  My hunch:  the results on these various polls are converging because attitudes are solidifying.  Question wording is making less of a difference because the underlying attitudes on withdrawal are becoming more real.   

UPDATE (6/28):  I just posted an update that includes graph showing the convergence of opinion on these various measures.

Related Entries - Iraq

Posted by Mark Blumenthal on June 27, 2006 at 04:18 PM in Iraq | Permalink

Comments

excellent post. While one can conclude that Americans are not sure what to do (neither is Congress or anyone else), it's hard to make a case that the answers favor any particular solution or party. This needs to be looked at along with polls about who Americans want in Congress, given the "Congress should decide" nature of the Gallup poll question.

If Americans are divided 5 months before the election (and they have been since 2000), but vote to replace one party with another, what then? We have seen that the population tends to support the winner in greater than 50-50 quantities even when that's where we start with. Enough to 'claim' mandates, I suppose, but a boon for the hard work of governing.

Posted by: DemFromCT | Jun 28, 2006 8:24:00 AM

It would seem that dems should avoid talking about withdrawal and focus on holding Republicans accountable for the situation they've created, which americans clearly believe was not worth it.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwartz | Jun 28, 2006 12:20:51 PM

hardening of attitudes is what rove sees and explains the admins desire to spin iraq into the timeline for withdrawl issue - their best position for upcoming election

Posted by: jamzo | Jun 28, 2006 12:42:25 PM

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