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SPINNING GALLUP! We tried to maintain a HOWLER HIATUS. But Sully brought us right out of our chairs:

MONDAY, MARCH 17, 2003

HOWLER HIATUS: We had planned to continue our HOWLER HIATUS until Tuesday. But this morning, Andrew Sullivan brought us out of our chairs with a deceptive post. We’d like to emit a low, mordant chuckle at Sully’s silly, ham-handed work. But the subject matter seems too severe. Does this sort of dissembling ever stop?

Is truth the first casualty of war? At, it is. Here is Sullivan’s post this morning about support for Iraq war policy:

WINNING THE ARGUMENT: The latest polling data show something worth remembering as we head into war. USA Today’s poll shows the highest levels supporting an invasion of Iraq—64 percent—since November 2001, a jump of five points from two weeks ago. 57 percent say that the Bush administration has made a convincing argument for intervention. This is far higher support for war than before the first Gulf War and a remarkable finding, to my mind, given the relentless anti-war propaganda flooding the airwaves.
According to Sullivan’s upbeat account, 64 percent now “support an invasion of Iraq.” And this is truly remarkable, he says, given all the anti-war foofaw that has been abroad in the land.

But Sully deceives by selection. If one actually links to Lawrence McQuillan’s piece in USA Today, here is what one finds:

MCQUILLAN: [A] USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll taken Friday-Saturday shows support for sending U.S. ground troops to remove Saddam is 64%, up from 59% two weeks ago and at the highest level since November 2001, when 74% backed such action…The poll also found that 58% say they support going to war in the next week or two, and that 57% believe the Bush administration has made a convincing case for taking military action.

Nonetheless, half of all Americans would oppose going to war if the president decided to attack without taking another U.N. vote. If he attacked after a U.N. vote that failed, 54% would support going to war. With U.N. authorization, that support would jump to 78%.

What’s the truth about this poll? In fact, only half of Americans support a war if Bush sidesteps another UN vote. And if Bush seeks and loses such a vote, only 54 percent favor war. Since these are the only two scenarios that will imaginably obtain, the truth is this: According to this USA Today/Gallup poll, 50-54 percent favor Bush policy, not the 64 percent Sully hails.

Does it matter if the number is 64, or just 50? Without question, the merits of the case matter more than public opinion. But Sullivan raises the question of public opinion himself—then misleads you about it.

But then, maybe the scribe is just aping the leader he loves. After all, one point escapes the Gallup poll altogether. USA Today/Gallup surveyed people’s opinions—but they knew enough not to conduct an information survey on the war. For example, how many of that 50-54 percent believe that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11? Information surveys continue to show that roughly half of Americans believe this proposition. They have, of course, been led to that belief by the relentless dissembling of their president, George Bush. And as with Bush, so too with Sully. Sic semper snivelling pundits who seek to lie the public to war. Sully: Is this the kind of uplifting “democracy” we hope to spread all through the world?

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Pols and pundits both love to say it: The American people are pretty sharp. Unfortunately, this pleasing pander is plainly untrue, as information surveys routinely make clear. In fact, such surveys routinely demonstrate an awkward fact: The American public almost never knows the simplest facts about public policy matters (no matter how seminal those policy matters may be). The 1993 Clinton budget plan provided a striking case in point. What did “Joe Sixpack” think of the plan? Uh-oh! As the plan was about to pass, USA Today did what newspapers rarely do—it printed results of an information survey! To recall the embarrassing results, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/12/02. The American people may be pretty sharp. But they’re also constantly misinformed, and it’s time we discussed that more freely.