In a December 1 column, Washington Times chief political correspondent Donald Lambro twisted data from an already flawed poll to suggest that "Americans want to finish what we've started [in Iraq] and want the Iraqi government to have every chance to show they can take over their own security." Lambro mischaracterized the findings of a November 21 RT Strategies poll, apparently conflating two questions and twisting its already questionable results. In addition, New York Times columnist David Brooks cited the same poll in his December 1 column (subscription required) without noting its flaws.
The poll Lambro cited reported that 70 percent of respondents believe that Democratic senators' criticism of President Bush's Iraq war policy hurts U.S. troop morale in Iraq, while 13 percent believe it helps morale. But Lambro apparently conflated two separate polling questions to falsely claim that "70 percent" of Americans think a rapid withdrawal of troops from Iraq would hurt troop morale:
We've all heard the polling questions that tell us a strong majority of Americans now think President Bush's decision to go into Iraq was mistaken. In light of the rising toll of U.S. casualties, that is an understandable view. But some polls ask a related question that suggests another view.
One poll last month by the bipartisan RT Strategies asked Americans if the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq would help or hurt troop morale. A stunning 70 percent said a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces would hurt morale over there while 14 percent said it would help.
This strongly suggests Americans want to finish what we've started and want the Iraqi government to have every chance to show they can take over their own security. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice thinks that will come "fairly soon."
In fact, the poll did not ask whether withdrawing troops from Iraq would hurt morale. The poll included a question addressing Democratic criticism of the president's Iraq policy, along with an unrelated question addressing whether the United States should withdraw its troops from Iraq. The first question asked, "Thinking about the war in Iraq, when Democratic Senators criticize the President's policy on the war in Iraq, do you believe it HELPS the morale of our troops in Iraq or HURTS the morale of our troops in Iraq?"; the second asked, "And thinking about the future of our policies in Iraq, do you believe the U.S. military should ... [w]ithdraw our troops immediately, regardless of the impact ... [w]ithdraw our troops as the Iraqi government and military meet specific goals and objectives ... [or s]et a fixed publicly available timetable for withdrawal."
Lambro's distortions notwithstanding, the data from the RT poll is itself suspect. Media Matters for America has previously noted that the poll did not allow for the possibility that criticism of Bush's Iraq policy has no effect on troop morale, nor did it address the fact that -- according to a November 4-7 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll -- 57 percent of Americans now believe the president misled the public when he made the case for war in Iraq. This perception could also have a substantial effect on troop morale, an issue the pollsters ignored.
In his December 1 New York Times column, Brooks also cited the results of the RT poll, using them to support his assertion that the American public disapproves of Democrats' performance:
The hammer of disapproval has fallen hardest on the Republicans, of course, but the public is just as eager to think the worst of the Democrats. Seventy percent of Americans say Democratic criticism of the war is hurting troop morale, according to a poll by RT Strategies. Most Americans cynically believe that Democrats are leveling their attacks on the war to gain partisan advantage, while only 30 percent believe that they are genuinely trying to help U.S. efforts.