Bush Backers Believe Propaganda
out of four self-described supporters of President George W. Bush
still believe pre-war Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD)
or active programs to produce them, and that Iraqi President Saddam
Hussein gave "substantial support" to al-Qaeda terrorists,
to a survey released Thursday.
as many or more Bush supporters hold those beliefs today than they
did several months ago, before the publication of a series of well-publicized
official government reports that debunked both notions.
are among the most striking findings of the survey, which was conducted
in mid-October by the University of Maryland's Program on International
Policy Attitudes (PIPA) and Knowledge Networks, a California-based
survey, which polled the views of nearly 900 randomly chosen respondents
equally divided between Bush supporters and those intending to vote
for Democratic Senator John Kerry in November's presidential election,
found a yawning gap in the worldviews, particularly as regards pre-war
Iraq, between the two groups.
is normal during elections for supporters of presidential candidates
to have fundamental disagreements about values or strategies,"
said an analysis produced by PIPA.
"the current election is unique in that Bush supporters and
Kerry supporters have profoundly different perceptions of reality.
In the face of a stream of high-level assessments about prewar Iraq,
Bush supporters cling to the refuted beliefs that Iraq had WMD or
the only issue on which the survey found broad agreement between
the two sets of voters was on the question of whether the administration
itself actively propagated the misconceptions about Iraq's WMD and
connections to al-Qaeda.
of the reasons that Bush supporters have these [erroneous] beliefs
is that they perceive the Bush administration confirming them,"
noted PIPA Director Steven Kull. "Interestingly, this is one
point on which Bush and Kerry supporters agree."
survey also found a major gap between Bush's stated positions on
a number of international issues and what his supporters believe
that position to be. A strong majority of Bush backers believe,
for example, that the president supports a range of global treaties
and institutions, which he is actually on record as opposing.
pre-war Iraq, the survey asked each respondent questions about WMD
and links to al-Qaeda on three levels: 1) what the respondents themselves
believed about the two issues; 2) what they believed "most
experts" had concluded about them; and 3) what they believed
the Bush administration was saying about them.
survey found 72 percent of Bush supporters believe either that Iraq
had actual WMD (47 percent) or a major program for making them (25
percent), despite the widespread media coverage in early October
of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA's) Duelfer Report, the final
word on the subject by the $1 billion, 15-month investigation by
the Iraq Survey Group.
concluded Hussein had dismantled all of his WMD programs shortly
after the 1991 Gulf War and had never tried to reconstitute them.
56 percent of Bush supporters said they thought most experts currently
believe Iraq had actual WMD, and 57 percent said they thought the
Duelfer Report had concluded that Iraq either had WMD (19 percent)
or a major WMD program (38 percent).
26 percent of Kerry supporters, by contrast, said they believed
that pre-war Iraq had either actual WMD or a WMD program, and only
18 percent said they believed "most experts" agreed with
those two possibilities.
results were found with respect to Hussein's alleged support for
al-Qaeda, a theory that has been most persistently asserted by Vice
President Dick Cheney, but that was thoroughly debunked by the final
report of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission earlier this summer.
percent of Bush supporters said they believed Iraq was providing
"substantial" support to al-Qaeda, with 20 percent asserting
Baghdad was directly involved in the 9/11 attacks on New York and
percent of Bush supporters even believed that clear evidence of
such support has been found, and 60 percent believed "most
experts" have reached the same conclusion.
contrast, only 30 percent of Kerry supporters said they believe
such a link existed and that most experts agree.
large majorities of both Bush and Kerry supporters agree that the
administration is saying Iraq had WMD and was providing substantial
support to al-Qaeda. In regard to WMD, those majorities have actually
grown since last summer, according to PIPA.
asked whether the United States should have gone to war with Iraq
if U.S. intelligence had concluded Baghdad did not have a WMD program
and was not supporting al-Qaeda, 58 percent of Bush supporters said
no, and 61 percent said they assumed the president would also not
have gone to war under those circumstances.
support the president and to accept that he took the U.S. to war
based on mistaken assumptions," said Kull, "likely creates
substantial cognitive dissonance and leads Bush supporters to suppress
awareness of unsettling information about prewar Iraq."
added that this "cognitive dissonance" could also help
explain other remarkable findings in the survey, particularly with
respect to Bush supporters' misperceptions about the president's
particular, majorities of Bush supporters incorrectly assumed he
supports multilateral approaches to various international issues,
including the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) (69 percent),
the land mine treaty (72 percent), and the Kyoto Protocol to curb
greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming (51 percent).
all of these cases, majorities of Bush supporters said they favored
the positions that they imputed, incorrectly, to the president.
majorities of Kerry supporters, on the other hand, showed they knew
both their candidate's and Bush's positions on the same issues.
supporters were also found to hold misperceptions regarding international
support for the president and his policies.
a steady flow over the past year of official statements by foreign
governments and public-opinion polls showing strong opposition to
the Iraq war, less than one-third of Bush supporters believed that
most people in foreign countries opposed Washington having gone
said they believed foreign views were either evenly divided on the
war (42 percent) or that the majority of foreigners actually favored
the war (26 percent).
of every four Kerry supporters, on the other hand, said they understood
that most of the rest of the world opposed the war.
who has been analyzing U.S. public opinion on foreign-policy issues
for two decades, said misperceptions of Bush supporters showed,
if anything, the hold the president has over his loyalists.
roots of the Bush supporters' resistance to information very likely
lie in the traumatic experience of 9/11 and equally into the near
pitch-perfect leadership that President Bush showed in its immediate
wake," he said.
appears to have created a powerful bond between Bush and his supporters
and an idealized image of the president that makes it difficult
for his supporters to imagine that he could have made incorrect
judgment before the war, that world public opinion would be critical
of his policies or that the president could hold foreign-policy
positions that are at odds with his supporters."
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service