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June 23, 2006

The Battle of the Bulge Poll

Last Sunday, Bush press secretary Tony Snow speculated about what polls might have shown during World War II:  "If somebody had taken a poll in the Battle of the Bulge, I dare say people would have said, 'Wow, my goodness, what are we doing here?.'"  Yesterday, Josh Marshall posted results from polls done by Hadley Cantril at Princeton which showed "no downtick in public support for the war around the time of the Battle of the Bulge."  This morning, with the help of Adam Berinsky, an associate professor of political science at MIT and a regular MP reader, the Washington Post's Al Kamen has a far more direct rebuttal:

In fact, there was a poll taken by Gallup from Dec. 31, 1944, to Jan. 4, 1945 -- three years into that war and right in the middle of the bloody Battle of the Bulge, where U.S. casualties were estimated between 70,000 and 80,000. It found that 73 percent of Americans would refuse to make peace with Adolf Hitler if he offered it and that 86 percent of Americans thought there was no chance that we would lose the war in Europe.

The question asked was: "If Hitler offered to make peace now and would give up all land he has conquered, should we try to work out a peace or should we go on fighting until the German army is completely defeated?...

Support for the war was bipartisan. About 78 percent of those voting for FDR in 1944 wanted to keep fighting until the German army was destroyed, Berinsky found, and 73 percent of those voting for the Republicans' Thomas Dewey felt the same.

The rest of the column has more details from Berinsky, who found the survey in the Roper Center Archives while researching a book on World War II.   

Read it all.

UPDATE - Adam Berinsky sends along his own analysis exclusively for MP readers.  Thank you Adam!:

"If somebody had taken a poll in the Battle of the Bulge, I dare say people would have said, 'Wow, my goodness, what are we doing here?'"

- Tony Snow, White House Press Secretary

Tony Snow might be surprised to learn that, in fact, somebody did take a poll during the Battle of the Bulge. In studying public opinion during World War II for my book manuscript, America at War: Public Opinion during Wartime, From World War II to Iraq, I uncovered some interesting data. From December 31, 1944 to January 4, 1945, the American Institute of Public Opinion, headed by George Gallup asked Americans several questions about the war. At the time, survey research was in its infancy, and modern polling techniques were not yet well established. Nonetheless, the results are illuminating, not just for what they tell us about World War II, but what they can tell us about opinion concerning the Iraq War.

In the 1945 poll, Gallup asked his respondents, "If Hitler offered to make peace now and would give up all land he has conquered, should we try to work out a peace or should we go on fighting until the German army is completely defeated?" Contrary to Snow's speculation, 73 percent of the public expressed support for the stated U.S. policy of unconditional surrender; the American people wanted to continue fighting until victory was complete.

Support for the war crossed party lines. Of those respondents who had voted to re-elect FDR in the 1944 election, 78 percent wished to continue fighting. Among those who voted for the Republican candidate, Thomas Dewey, 73 percent wanted to fight until the Germany army met complete defeat.

Though war support was slightly higher among President Roosevelt's supporters than his opponents, this gap pales in comparison to partisans' opinions on the war in Iraq. As political scientist Gary Jacobson effectively demonstrates in his recent book, A Divider, Not A Uniter: George W. Bush and the American People, the Iraq war has created a schism between citizens who identify with Democrats and those who identify with Republicans. At the beginning of 2006, almost 80 percent of Republicans supported the Iraq war. However, barely 20 percent of Democrats backed the war at that time. The chasm in opinion on the Iraq war has characterized opinion on the war since 2003 and continues to this day.

This partisan gap is the real reason the war in Iraq finds only middling support among the mass public. Republican support for Iraq, after all, is comparable to Republican support for the U.S. military action during the Battle of the Bulge. Democrats, on the other hand, viewed the two wars very differently.

The roots of this partisan divide can be found in the actions of politicians. From 1938 through the end of 1941, support among politicians of both parties for some form of U.S. involvement in World War II increased generally over time. However, the gap between FDR and his critics on the necessity and wisdom of U.S involvement in the Second World War remained large. But after U.S. entry in the war, FDR secured the support of his Republican opponents and both parties expressed a strong pro-war message. Conversely, even before it began, the war in Iraq has been strongly associated with President Bush and his Republican allies in Congress. Though Democratic politicians have not until recently expressed open opposition to the war effort, they have never joined en mass with their Republican counterparts in openly supporting the war.

Patterns of agreement and disagreement among partisan political actors play a critical role in shaping popular responses to war. As long as Republicans continue to support the President, support for the Iraq will continue to hover in the mid-forties - where, as Jacobson shows in his book, it has stayed since early 2004. But without the support of politicians from across the aisle, the American people as a whole will never support the Iraq war. Among both politicians and the mass public, the Iraq war is a Republican war.

Related Entries - Iraq, Polls in the News

Posted by Mark Blumenthal on June 23, 2006 at 07:27 AM in Iraq, Polls in the News | Permalink


Yet another example of Republicans lying to advance their agenda. Sickening.

Posted by: Aaron | Jun 23, 2006 8:17:24 AM

Or, rather, another example of how Democrat politicians whip up anti-war sentiment to further their own partisan goals even though they undermine the national unity that is needed to successfully execute a difficult but ultimately winnable war. How cynical is that?

Posted by: an independent mind | Jun 23, 2006 12:36:50 PM

Professor Berinsky comments: "This partisan gap is the real reason the war in Iraq finds only middling support among the mass public." He concludes: "Patterns of agreement and disagreement among partisan political actors play a critical role in shaping popular responses to war. As long as Republicans continue to support the President, support for the Iraq will continue to hover in the mid-forties - where, as Jacobson shows in his book, it has stayed since early 2004. But without the support of politicians from across the aisle, the American people as a whole will never support the Iraq war. Among both politicians and the mass public, the Iraq war is a Republican war."

That the Iraqi war has become a partisan dividing line is certainly true. But I am not sure that partisan divisions explain the different polling results here. The portrayal of the war effort in WW2 was quite different, and unabashedly patriotic. No one reading the American press then would have been in doubt about the identity of the good guys vs. the bad guys. Today, the American press -- certainly, the national papers and the networks -- routinely portray US forces in an extremely negative light, and routinely emphasize the negative in the storyline. Equally important was the fact that US entry into WW2 came about because of a direct military attack. There was no equivalent direct attack by the Iraqis preceding the Iraqi war. In short there are many, seemingly far more significant, differences between WW2 and the Iraqi was that may more plausibly account for the different polling results.

Nor do I think that the agreement across partisan lines about WW2 was the result of political factors, such as the opinions of leading political figures on both sides of the partisan divide. One reason I am skeptical of Professor Berinsky's emphasis on the importance of the "support of politicians from across the aisle" is that polling results on the immigration issue defies that simple partisan explanation. The President and many leading figures on the Republican side, particularly in the Senate, urge a "comprehensive approach," including a path to citizenship for illegals already here; and the Democractic side is almost universally in favor of that idea. Surely, despite opposition by Republican House leaders, the President and the Republican Senators constitute very substantial "support of politicians from across the aisle" for the "comprehensive" approach. Yet the polls show consistently that, despite such partisan agreement (at least at that level), the public is highly skeptical of that approach.

In short, it seems to me that the partisan explanation for the differences in polling results offered by Professor Berinsky confuses effects with causes.

Posted by: RHD | Jun 23, 2006 1:39:48 PM

I think you are completely missing the point of Snow's comment. What he meant was, if you were to have reported the Battle of the Bulge as Vietnam was reported and as Iraq today is being reported, the polls would have showed the same level of opposition as they do today. To put it bluntly, World War II was censored, voluntarily or otherwise. Vietnam wasn't and Iraq certainly isn't. In fact, there is a credible argument that Iraq, so far from being censored, is being distorted by journalists with an agenda. If CNN and Fox News had existed back in the 1940s and had been running up-to-the minute casualty alerts live from the trenches, with gruesome video to boot, as each one of those 70,000 Americans died, American public opinion would have shifted just like it has today.

Posted by: wannabe_a_historian | Jun 23, 2006 3:59:42 PM

> Today, the American press... routinely
> portray US forces in an extremely
> negative light, and routinely emphasize
> the negative in the storyline

If by "negative" you mean images of funerals and reporting that fact that people are dying, well, they reported those facts in WW2. Yes, they've also reported truly negative things like Haditha, but "support our troops" is still a bipartisan slogan.

Further, there is no doubt on either side of the asile that Sadaam and the insurgents are wretched, evil people. Rather, the difference in agreement is whether the $300 billion we've spent so far might have been better spent elsewhere. Not to mention 2,500 lives cut short.

Your comment betrays the dominant Republican strategy since Watergate: if you don't like the facts, shoot the messenger.

Next perhaps you can tell us that the left hates America and wants the terrorists to win.

Posted by: Derek Scruggs | Jun 23, 2006 4:02:26 PM

...a mere 30% of eligible Americans voted for FDR in 1944.

Hardly a strong endorsement for a wartime president, or majority-rule democracy.

If a U.S. presidential election can be considered a type of survey-research poll, popular support for that American war, its leader and its battles is questionable.

Posted by: Miller | Jun 23, 2006 4:54:26 PM

I disagree that Professor Berinsky's argument is a cause/effect confusion. Rather, he's painting broad strokes with a narrow brush. Snow's original comment spoke to alleged shifts in public opinion in the face of adversity or defeat on the battlefield. What the Gallup poll shows is that, in the public's mind, the casualities encountered at the Battle of Bulge did not overwhelm the positive momentum the war had taken, especially since the Normandy breakout. That momentum, plus the sheer investment the country had already committed to the conflict in terms of lives and resources, was the reason public support didn't flinch in Dec '44/Jan '45, not because of any sort of partisan allegiance.

The reason public opinion in the Iraq War shows so much more, for lack of a better term, sensitivity, is again not due to party lockstep (haven't the most partisan among us already chosen their immutable sides?), but, I would argue, several factors:

1) A perceived lack of national committment and sacrafice to the conflict, which parallels greater demographic homogeneity in the armed forces in general, a consequence of the all-volunteer force;

2) The "soft" nature of this phase: it's easier to support a closed-ended conflict with concrete conditions for victory (the intial invasion) than an open-ended conflict with vaporous objectives (the post-Saddam rebuilding);

3) A perceived momentum that, rightly or wrongly, is negative;

4) [This is the closest to Berinsky's arguement] Inevitable association of the conflict with a President and GOP congressional delegation who have seen declining poll numbers for unrelated reasons.

Posted by: BarbaryCoast | Jun 23, 2006 6:56:36 PM

Barbary Coast --

I think your explanation 2) hits the nail on the head.

The reason why the Battle of the Bulge is an inapt comparison for the current situation in Iraq is that the challenge to US war aims for which the Bulge could be an analogy -- a costly setback during the drive to Baghdad to replace Saddam Hussein's Baath regime -- had it occurred, would have taken place in the spring of 2003, not now.

If analogies have to be drawn, public support for the US military occupation of the Philippines in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War would be more appropriate. Unfortunately that is too far back, even for George Gallup.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall | Jun 23, 2006 7:20:10 PM

Unlike some of the commenters, I find Adam's argument persuasive (though I have the benefit of having read a fuller version of that argument). Not only does it fit with the polling data for Iraq; it also fits with a lot of what we know about public opinion about other wars (including Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War).

Some of the objections seem to be premised on the notion that the media lead public discourse rather than reflecting messages from mainstream elites (i.e., Democratic and Republican leaders). I don't find this notion plausible in the Iraq case or any other case. Put another way, Adam's not the one who's confusing cause and effect here.

I'm also skeptical that an "inevitable association of the conflict with a President and GOP congressional delegation who have seen declining poll numbers for unrelated reasons" provides a compelling explanation. Instead, I'm fairly confident that the Iraq war is reason #1 for why the president's (and, by extension, the GOP Congressional delegation's) numbers are in the doldrums.

The momentum explanation is vague, and shifts in opinion that are attributed to the Big Mo usually reflect more specific causal processes.

If the differing origins of WWII and the Iraq War explain the differences in support for the two wars, shouldn't those differences in support be most apparent at the beginnings of the wars, rather than now?

On the composition of military: Is there any evidence that this influences public opinion?

I also like the comparison to the occupation of the Philippines. Mark Twain had some interesting things to say about that war.

Posted by: Paul Brewer | Jun 23, 2006 10:17:58 PM

Comparing what we are doing in Iraq with WWII, which I lived through, is absurd.
We are NOT AT WAR NOW. There is no civilian draft, no concrete enemy ["terrorism" is an abstraction.] How can we achieve a victory if there is no enemy entity that might be coerced into surrender?
The better comparison is between Iraq and our adventure in Vietnam. After 58,000 dead American servicemen over a 10-year period, following a thoroughly trumped-up pretense, we pulled out of Vietnam. Saigon is now Ho Chi Minh city. MacNamara visited with his North Vietnamese counterparts 20 years after we left, and they assured him that their only plan was to keep on fighting until either we left or they were all dead.*[Source - MacNamara's statements in The Fog of War].
We are in similar circumstances in Iraq. The forces whom we are engaging will continue to fight until we leave, or until they are all dead.
We might also look to what happened at the end of WWII with the Japanese. It's undeniable that if we hadn't nuked two civilian population centers, they would have fought to the last, as they did on Okinawa.
In fact, you can go back to Caesar Gallic wars and learn that wars are lost when the civilian population stops supporting the military. Sherman's devastation of Georgia, our firebombing of Dresden, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki are examples. Londoners' refusal to give up to the blitz, the Russians turning back the Germans at Stalingrad, are examples in the other direction.
But before there is peace, there has to be a real war. We're not there yet. But I suspect there's one that will start in Israel soon...

Posted by: Nat Ehrlich | Jun 26, 2006 12:28:20 PM

The reason for the difference in opinions between Dems and Repubs in WWII and Iraq is not the actions of their party leaders. First, the Dem base was opposed earlier and more strongly to the Iraq war than the party's leaders, so the base is not following the politicians, but vice versa. Second, it's not just a difference of partisan affiliation, it's a difference in the motivation for and conduct of the two wars. WWII was a response to aggression; Iraq was a preemptive (i.e., unprovoked) attack. The attitudes of both the Dem base and the party's leaders are responding to these facts, which are the real cause of the partisan divide.

Posted by: Doug Singsen | Jun 28, 2006 12:54:20 PM

Out of curiousity, I wonder how much media coverage impacted the polling responses. Could a case be argued that Americans didn't really know about many of the tragedies that occured dueing WWII? Nearly 1,000 people died during training for Dday at Slapton Sands but the Army didn't release the report until after the war. I wonder if the support would have been as high as it was if Dday was covered by the media with the same sort of coverage that Iraq is covered.

Posted by: llarry52 | Jul 2, 2006 10:50:30 AM

As Paul noted above, this finding is just part of a larger project about public opinion and war. For those interested, here is a link to my working paper page:


and here is a link to the manuscript described in Kamen's column.


I address many of the questions raised by MP readers in that manuscript

Posted by: Adam Berinsky | Jul 2, 2006 1:35:57 PM

Clearly this whole analysis begs the question. There is little question that polls today are measuring the degree to which Americans have been conditioned by a liberal media narrative. Also, examination of many poll internals demonstrates a bias toward Democrats respondents who often far outnumber Republican respondents. I'm an independent myself, but I find the questions asked by these polls to be ambiguous at best and leading at worst.

Polls are anything but a measure of clear-eyed, objective analysis of reality by the respondent. When was the last time anyone has ever heard any kind of positive news coming out of Iraq? There's no fairness or balance in the reporting coming out of Iraq. Heck, the problem even goes back to before the Iraq war when Eason Jordan admitted CNN deep-sixed any number of stories about Saddam's ruthless regime in hopes of keeping its access and credentials in their Iraqi bureau.

Despite the liberal boilerplate, even the Iraqi people believe they are better off today (though many do want us out as soon as possible) than they were under Saddam's regime, though Americans have it exactly backwards. And Iraqi officials have made it quite clear they want American troops to remain at least for another two to three years.

Of course it doesn't help that deeply flawed studies like the John Hopkins study comes out right before the November 2006 elections and makes the absolutely ludicrous claim that over 500 innocent Iraqi civilians are being killed EVERY DAY FOR THE LAST FOUR YEARS (650,000 + they claimed) since the beginning of Operation Iraqi freedom (which was a spectacular success in deposing Saddam's regime and subsequently find the tin-plated despot in his spiderhole). Not even the liberal media has been able to document more than a few days over the last four years where the Iraqi civilian casualty count was ever over one hundred day - 99% OF WHOM WERE SLAUGHTERED BY THEIR OWN MUSLIM BROTHERS! Yet such bogus garbage like the John Hopkins study is trotted out as having come from the Oracle of Delphi itself.

Over 90% of the American people supported the first front on the war on terror in Afghanistan and depending on the poll anywhere from 72 to 78% of Americans supported regime change in Iraq. Based on the information above I would conclude the following: too many American are feckless fair-weather patriots, too many Americans have been weaned on the constant anti-Bush/America-bashing negativism of the lamestream media, and American's today lack the will and resolve to see a difficult, unconventional war through to its completion. If this is true, the American experiment is doomed within a generation because the radical Islamists and Islamofascists (and those who claim they are "moderate Muslims) aren't going to give up their dream of a global caliphate.

Posted by: Hankmeister | Jun 20, 2007 11:18:38 AM

Here's how the modern media would have reported World War II:

Once again American non-interventionists leveled criticisms against the beleaguered Roosevelt Administration as the Nazi push into the Ardennes threatens the ports of Antwerp, thereby setting in motion a possible defeat of American forces that are being divided by this mechanized German thrust. The question on most Americans’ minds today is what military might does Hitler still have that we don’t know about?

Now known as the Battle of the Bulge, media-savvy Americans are becoming weary of war and angry at the Roosevelt Administration, though to a person they say they still “support the soldiers”. With America war dead reaching 315,000, including the 19,000 killed in this latest Eisenhower failure to totally neutralize the Nazis’ offensive capabilities in the Ardennes, Republican calls were renewed for the impeachment of President Roosevelt and drawing down American troops in what most Americans now perceive as an ignoble and immoral European war which merely furthers the President's imperialistic goals.

Constantly reminded of the latest military debacles in newspapers and through radio broadcasts, dispirited Americans are having less stomach for the prospect of possibly seeing another 85,000 to 100,000 American soldiers die in this growing quagmire as the U.S. Army and airborne units slog toward Berlin and Hitler’s underground bunkers over the next six months to a year.

Many Americans are also beginning to wonder why Roosevelt chose to fight a costly war in Europe and Africa when it was the Japanese who attacked Pearl Harbor in the first place. Conspiracy theories have claiming the President wanted war and previously knew about the impending Japanese "surprise attack" are gaining traction.

Americans already find the war in the Pacific Theater against the Japanese costly enough with close to another 31,000 Marines and Navy personnel dying during the last nine months alone.

President Roosevelt's victory-at-any-cost commitment has caused American families to lose another 54,000 of their sons, fathers and husbands to death and 160,000 to battle wounds in the last year alone. What has been described as a military quagmire has also inarguably created all manner of misery to French and Belgium civlians and a growing chaos in the European theater of operations. The President’s vague references to “beating the Nazi thugs” and "unconditional surrender" when asked for a clear exit strategy by Republicans and the Washington media has caused much consternation among the American people who think this war is more about French wine and German sauerkraut than it is about American security.

Posted by: Hankmeister | Jun 20, 2007 11:30:37 AM

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