Small Wars Journal

Déjà  Vu, All Over Again?

I'll lead off with two short excerpts from the new Army Counterinsurgency (COIN) Field Manual, FM 3-24 and Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 3-33.5:

- Insurgencies are protracted by nature. Thus, COIN operations always demand considerable expenditures of time and resources.

- At the strategic level, gaining and maintaining U.S. public support for a protracted deployment is critical.

Which leads us to an excerpt from a 21 February NY Post article that appeared on the DoD Current News (Early Bird) and linked to from the Small Wars Council discussion board - America Says Let's Win War by Andy Soltis:

In a dramatic finding, a new poll shows a solid majority of Americans still wants to win the war in Iraq - and keep U.S. troops there until the Baghdad government can take over.

Strong majorities also say victory is vital to the War on Terror and that Americans should support President Bush even if they have concerns about the way the war is being handled, according to the survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies.

The poll found that 57 percent of Americans supported "finishing the job in Iraq" - keeping U.S. troops there until the Iraqis can provide security on their own. Forty-one percent disagreed.

By 53 percent to 43 percent they also believe victory in Iraq over the insurgents is still possible...

And brings us to the beginning (hopefully) of a debate at the Small Wars Council:

Tequila - Note that POS (illustrative acronym) is a Republican house polling firm that often does "push polling" as well as normal opinion polling. The NY Post is a right-wing Rupert Murdoch rag that is widely regarded as the worst newspaper in the NY market, exceeded only in its hackery by the neocon-favoring NY Sun. More details on the poll here.

John T. Fishel - If you look at the information about the poll and the questions asked, it is both pretty solid and quite conventional. The questions are clear. The same thing is asked several times in a variety of ways and the answers are consistent. And the margin of error is stated relatively conservatively. As one who has done some survey research, I have no problem with this.

Tequila - That's why I included the poll data itself, so folks can judge. I thought some of the questions betray some push-poll stuff, and also the demographics of the poll lean heavily white, but otherwise not terrible. Nonetheless the origins of the poll are worth noting.

Merv Benson - Actually party polling is usually kept in house and is considered much more accurate than newspaper polls, because more is at stake. One of the problems with most of the media polls is they tend poll "satisfaction" instead of what results people want. Similar misleading polling was done after the Tet offensive, and when more details were added it turned out that a majority were either "satisfied" with the war policy or wanted a more aggressive policy. Those who wanted to lose were in a minority. I think that is still the case with the Iraq war. My poll question would be real simple -- "Do you want to lose the war in Iraq?"

Tequila -- Merv, there are two types of polling done. One is normal opinion polling, whose goal is to ascertain the true state of public opinion. The other is "push polling", where questions are asked similar to the one you ask, whose goal is to elicit a defined response and shape opinion rather than understand it.

Stratiotes - Such results are not uncommon in time of war. Similar results were often obtained to the very end of the Vietnam war. Few will go out on a limb and say they'd like to just give up.... even if they did not agree with the war to begin with.

John T. Fishel - The first thing to note about the demographics of the sample is that it is of "likely" voters. This means that there will almost certainly be some deviation from the percentages of selected groups among the population as a whole. In this case, blacks are represented fairly closely to their proportion of the population at large, but Hispanics are seriously underrepresented as, it appears, are Asians. But, then, Hispanics have been much less likely to vote, hence the over-representation of whites. The upper income groups and more highly educated are also over-represented but again, they are more likely voters.

As I indicated earlier, I did not see questions that appeared to predispose the respondents toward a particular answer and, more importantly, because there were multiple questions seeking to get at the same variables I am comfortable with the results.

It is interesting that the polls taken post-Tet showed general dissatisfaction with the course of the war but when the questions asked what people wanted to do about it, they were all over the map. If I recall correctly, however, the bottom line was do what it takes to win or get out now. "Deja vu all over again"?

What say you? Comment here or join the discussion at the Small Wars Council.