Why Iraq Is Being 'Taken Off the Table'

by: Matt Stoller

Wed Dec 12, 2007 at 14:03

I noticed that Weirauch didn't mention Iraq in her ads, but did go aggressively on gas prices, health care, and an antipartisan 'Washington is broken' message.  I suspect that had something to do with the apathetic muddle of the electorate, a muddle which several commenters on Dailykos mentioned they heard from voters when they were phonebanking.  The alternative conventional wisdom on the loss is that Republicans dropped a whole bunch of money and prevented us from grabbing this one under the radar.

Regardless, there's a problem with taking Iraq off the table in favor of other issues like the economy or health care.  And that is, very simply, that Iraq is linked to the economy and health care; a dollar spent in Iraq is a dollar not spent on health care.  The issues may not separated in voters' minds, but they are separated on polling questions and therefore in the political strategies Democrats adopt.  This separation is just an assumption by pollsters, and I don't know if there has been a lot of testing to justify it.  Do voters really stop caring about Iraq when the economy turns bad, or are the two problems linked?  Certainly the economy and Iraq are linked, and the same leadership that screwed up one screwed up the other.  But the data doesn't tell us whether voters get this story, because it assumes there is no overall story to tell.  People are interested in Iraq or health care but not both.

After going over thirty pages of polling data at Polling Report on Iraq, I noticed that the lines of questioning are mostly organized around military tactics and strategy - are we winning, should we pull out troops, is Bush doing a good job.  They have little to do with what people actually think about the war in Iraq.  Why did we go to war?  Why are we there?  What do you think of the trade-offs in being there?  Do you think that spending money in Iraq is hurting the economy here?  Are we there for oil?  Is America bogged down in Iraq?  Is Iraq preventing America from investing in a better energy system?

We don't have data on these questions, because pollsters aren't asking them.  And because Iraq is set against health care and the economy in most polling, the issues are seen as competitive.  But are they?  Can you really talk about the economy without talking about Iraq?  I don't know, but I doubt it. 

Anyway, on the flip I published a polling memo from the House Democratic Caucus, Rahm's shop, gleefully claiming that the economy has superseded Iraq as the number one issue on voters' minds, and that Democrats are trusted on the economy.  I wonder why that message didn't work in Ohio's 5th district.  There are many possible explanations, of course, and I'm not sure that talking about Iraq would have made a difference.  But we have seen this movie before.

Matt Stoller :: Why Iraq Is Being 'Taken Off the Table'
To: House Democratic Caucus, Reporters, Interested Parties

From: House Democratic Caucus Communications Office

Re: New Polls: Economy is Priority Number One for Americans

With home values dropping, and the costs of health care, home heating oil, and a college education continuing to rise, American families are justifiably uneasy about their ability to make ends meet in a declining economy.  Now, new polls from CBS News/ New York Times, CNN, ABC News/Washington Post and Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times find that Americans trust Democrats over Republicans to handle the economy, and rank the economy as the most important issue facing the country.  Recent poll highlights are included below.

Economy is Priority Number One for Voters. The latest CNN poll, and the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll both found the economy to be the top issue for voters, and the most important issue voters will consider when casting their vote for President. [CNN, 12/11/07; Washington Post, 12/11/07]

Americans Trust Democrats Over Republicans to Handle Economy. In the CBS News/New York Times poll, 49% of the American people said they trust Democrats to ensure a strong economy while only 31% trust Republicans. When Americans were asked which party they trusted to handle the economy by the ABC News/ Washington Post poll, Democrats led by an 18 point margin, 51%- 33%. [CBS News/New York Times , 12/11/07; Washington Post, 12/11/07].  The country also trusts Democrats over Republicans 45%-30% to restart the economy if we fall into a recession, according to the Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll. [CNN, 12/11/07; Bloomberg/ Los Angeles Times, 12/4/07]

Americans Believe the Economy is Struggling, and Getting Worse. The latest CBS News/ New York Times poll indicates that 57% of the American people say the state of the national economy is bad and 53% believe the economy is getting worse. Additionally, the latest CNN poll found that 54% of Americans believe the state of the economy is poor or very poor and 49% of Americans believe the economy will be in poor or very poor shape one year from now. [CBS News/New York Times , 12/11/07; CNN, 12/11/07]

Americans See High Energy Prices As Economic Threat. When asked by the Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll to choose the greatest threat to the economy, more than one-third of Americans selected high energy prices. [Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times , 12/4/07]

Majority Believe America is Already in Recession, Count on Democrats to Revive Economy. According to CNN, 57% of Americans believe the country is in a recession and an additional 26% believe a recession is likely in the next year.

Overwhelming Majority Disapproves of Bush's Handling of Economy. The CBS News/New York Times poll found that despite all the White House talk about fiscal responsibility, only 26% of Americans approve of the way President Bush is handling the economy while 64% disapprove. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 63% of Americans disapprove of Bush's handling of the economy an all-time high for this poll. [CBS News/New York Times , 12/11/07; Washington Post, 12/11/07]

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ugh (4.00 / 1)
Even if the economy is the #1 issue, that doesn't mean you can pretend Iraq doesn't #$(*& exist!

And even if we do have some marginal level of trust, it certainly doesn't mean we're telling a compelling story on the economy - let alone one that will stand up in the face of a better executed campaign blaming immigrants and taxes for everything.

I got involved six years ago because I was afraid of one party rule. Great to know that Rahm is still doing everything he can to keep me awake at night with exactly the same fear.

People link these (0.00 / 0)
People do make the connection.  One reason the war has always been unpopular in the Black community is that folks knew from the beginning that more money for war meant less money for programs that might have helped, like education, job programs, health care etc.  Surely other people could make that connection too.

Why not do some polling?  This strikes me as the kind of issue where traditional polling outfits (and the people who pay them) don't really want to know.  I'd help pay for it.

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.

Why do Dems fear saying "Get Out Of Iraq NOW!"? (0.00 / 0)
Sadly, many of our prominent Democrats seem to fear the bullies calling them "coward" if they say "Get Out Of Iraq NOW!"

While so many Americans want U.S. soldiers out of this pointless, fruitless war in Iraq -- the Democrats stand pinned to the wall by the bullies.

How can we help them get some gumption to stand up for US and for the rest of Americans who know that the only way to salvage what's left of our "democracy" is to EXIT IRAQ ASAP NOW!!

Iraq... (0.00 / 0)
I was appalled and offended that NPR didn't see fit to include Iraq as one of the topics of discussion in its' debate.

The intellectual elite have tossed it off the table as well.
And we, the taxpayers, contribute to this "public radio" charade.

What kind of crap is this? (0.00 / 0)
The polls cited in the memo that put the economy ahead of Iraq were only published 12/9 (WaPo) and 12/11 (CNN).

So that data was NOT available weeks ago when the decision was made to ignore Iraq.

One month ago both WaPo aned CNN had Iraq as the #1 issue.

Moreover the NYT poll cited above (12/9) still had Iraq as #1:
War in Iraq - 25
Economy/Jobs - 12

So the DCCC spin is crap. More here:

Good diary and thread - (4.00 / 1)
In a related diary about yesterday's elections, someone wondered about this issue in the context of Darcy Burner's campaign in Washington state. She advertises her opposition to the Iraq occupation quite explicitly.

Also, we may have opposition for Brian Baird in the WA-03 primary, named Cheryl Crist. She "looks good on paper", especially with respect to the Iraq issue. So now, those of us seeking an opponent for Brian, are making contact with her.

One thing - somewhat related to this thread - the Ohio race turned out less than 30% of the electorate; the VA contest less than 20%. Could it be that, if you don't give voters something to believe in, they don't bother to vote?

By the way - did I mention that I'm running for president?

About that "apathetic muddle" (4.00 / 1)
Speaking only for myself, most of my better friends, who tend to be fairly well-educated, lean "liberal" and usually vote Democratic, beyond making the obligatory comments disparaging Bush & Co. that one is expected to make these days whenever to topic is brought up in social situations, simply could not care less about politics or any of these issues to the extent that they don't affect THEM at present. The level of apathy, ignorance and unconcern that I see about the big issues of today--both foreign and domestic--is simply astounding. So I'm not at all surprised at what these phone bankers encountere in their calls to potential voters.

Things haven't changed much since de Tocqueville's time. By and large, most Americans are only interested in politics to the extent that it has to do with issues that are of immediate and tangible concern to them--e.g. jobs, inflation, crime, taxes. Beyond that, it's something that takes place far away and has little to nothing to do with them, that is at most something to make a few quick obligatory comments on in social situations before getting to the far more important topics of last night's game or that home remodel project they're undertaking. Americans are simply not very political. Never have been, never will be, most likely. Unless it's local and immediate, as Tip O'Neill said.

One can complain about this, and how disengaged Americans are from the rest of the world or anything beyond their immediate reality. But as justified as such complaints are--and they are, I believe, given how important these matters are, and the footprint that the US has on the rest of the world, which I think obliges Americans to know more about it--they're not going to change this basic reality about America and Americans. Instead, we have to find ways of getting Americans to care more about and get more involved in politics.

I have no idea of how to go about that, short of waiting for the consequences of the policies of the Bush administration and the GOP-controlled (and now Democratic-enabled) congress to fully play out as the disasters that they are surely going to be on all sorts of fronts (economic, environmental, health, safety, crime, etc.), which will likely make Americans more politically aware and active. But that's a very passive and defeatist way of accomplishing this (that won't necessarily make Americans more liberal--if things get really bad it could easily go the other way, which given the Paul phenomenon and the resurgence of nativism greatly worries me), and there surely must be more positive and active ways of doing it.

Anyway, refusing to address the biggest issue of the day or identify yourself proudly (if at all) as a Democrat is clearly NOT the right way to get voters to care more about politics or see you as a viable alternative to the same old same old that most Americans have become jaded and apathetic about and generally just tune out in boredom or disgust. Whoever gave her this advice should forever be banned from Democratic politics.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

A Misleading Statement (4.00 / 1)
"And that is, very simply, that Iraq is linked to the economy and health care; a dollar spent in Iraq is a dollar not spent on health care. "

I do not think that this statement is literally true - if the 1.6 trillion dollars were NOT spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I sincerely doubt that it would have been spent on ANY domestic program and that includes healthcare.

A dollar NOT spent in Iraq would still be sitting in the Chinese Central Bank, or whatever foreign entity the US is borrowing cash from nowadays.

Now, I'm not simply posting to correct your premises - the rhetoric is important in setting realistic goals for domestic (or even international) programs.  It is not realistic to say that if the US spent money on healthcare like the Pentagon spends money in Iraq, then all would be right with the world.

As to your larger point (question) - why has the Democratic "leadership" taken Iraq "off of the table".  I think the answer is quite simple - the party "leadership" has no interest in pursuing the questions of why and how the US was made to occupy Iraq because to do so would entail and/or promote a reversal of the push toward the unitary executive and the emergence of the American Empire.  Neither MSP is interested in addressing these in a real way because to do so would, ultimately, limit the power of the US Executive and they have a 50-50 shot at getting to wield that power.

The system is broken - the power-hungry hawks and faux-doves  are in ascendence.  We don't need to reform our political parties - we need to dismantle the congressional-military-industrial complex - we need to dislodge the Pentagon and make the "intelligence" agencies understand that the laws apply to them as well.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

I think the dirty little secret.... (4.00 / 1)
....is that there is bipartisan consensus among the party elites that the US is never leaving Iraq.  The Saudi oil fields are drying up.

The Democrats are just trying to kick the can past the next election.

Election after election.

As my German Girl-friend would say: "Jepp!" (0.00 / 0)
Meanwhile, there's been so little actual oil exploration in Iraq over the last 30 years, there are grounded suspicions that the tested reserves of Iraqi Sweet only represent about 20-40% of the actual oil under the country. And much of the unproved-but-plausible deposits rest in WESTERN Iraq, where the Sunni population is being concentrated.

The Iraqis say the new bases in Iraq are not and cannot be permanent. But that just means the USofA and the puppet govt in Bagdhad will concur on a fiction calling both the installations and the troops (and aircraft) stationed there "temporary." It won't change the reality on the ground, of thousands of soldiers and airmen in-coountry to man the foreward posts of the USer influence-extending machinery throughout the trans-Caspian and trans-Caucasus regions.

It is totally unimaginable to me that the US will abandon these strategically vital outposts and leave the region to the care and tender ministrations of the russians, the chinese and the indians...

Nagahapun, chers...not in this universe...

[ Parent ]
You draw an interesting distinction (0.00 / 0)
when you talk about most polls being polls of policy questions (is policy x working, do you support policy y, etc) rather than polls of narrative questions.  Given that people's understanding of The Story precedes their choice of various policy options, trying to persuade people that Policy Option X is good will never really work; what's needed is to persuade them that Narrative X is valid.

Given that, then yeah we should be polling on narrative questions.  I don't read a lot of polls myself, so I would never have noticed that we're not doing that.

Excellent Point (0.00 / 0)
Some polls do that, to varying extents. They ask things like, Which statement best reflects your thinking? (A) "We have a moral obligation to care for the earth for future generations." (B) "What has the future ever done for me?"

But you can easily go beyond this by asking a series of questions that test the implication of people's choices as well.  This has been explored in the past, but has never caught on with major polling organizations.  I think it just makes too  much sense.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
While Some Iraqi Officials Say USer Troops Can't Stay "Permanently," (0.00 / 0)
that doesn't mean the USer military won't merely designate the new 'permanent' bases as 'temporary' bases, and keep 'em well-supplied with cannon fodder.

2002 all over again (0.00 / 0)
  The Democrats couldn't wait to take Iraq off the table in 2002, handing Bush his blank check and figuring that we could all talk about the economy now.

  How's that work out, Rahm?

  Our leaders are idiots.

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn


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