The Hill cited flawed Rasmussen poll to assert "solid support for Petraeus plan"

››› ››› RYAN CHIACHIERE

An article in The Hill on a recommendation before Congress by Gen. David Petraeus to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to pre-"surge" levels by the summer of 2008 asserted that, in President Bush's address to the nation laying out the plan, "his sell might not be so difficult," citing as evidence a Rasmussen Reports poll that "showed that 43 percent of Americans support the Petraeus plan while 38 percent oppose it." But the poll did not offer respondents other options to choose from -- including withdrawal of a greater number of troops than that recommended by Petraeus.

A September 13 article in The Hill headlined "Poll shows solid support for Petraeus plan" -- referring to a recommendation before Congress by Gen. David Petraeus to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to pre-"surge" levels by the summer of 2008 -- asserted that "[w]hen President Bush addresses the nation Thursday night to lay out the way forward in Iraq, his sell might not be so difficult," citing as evidence a Rasmussen Reports poll that "showed that 43 percent of Americans support the Petraeus plan while 38 percent oppose it." However, the poll and the article citing it are flawed.

First, the poll question did not offer an alternative to the recommendation that reflected actual proposals by Democrats and some Republicans for U.S. policy in Iraq. The poll, taken September 11-12 and sampling 1,000 adults, asked, "Do you favor or oppose Petraeus' recommendation to withdraw 30,000 soldiers from Iraq but leave 130,000 troops in place at least through the summer?" Forty-three percent of respondents answered "favor," while 38 percent answered "oppose." Nineteen percent were unsure. Those options were the only three provided in the question; respondents were not given the option of answering that they disagreed with the "recommendation" because they favor the withdrawal of a greater number of troops.

When other options are provided, polls show strong support for a greater withdrawal. For example, a Fox News poll taken September 11-12 and sampling 900 adults asked, "Based on General Petraeus's new report, do you think the United States should pull out all troops immediately; pull out all troops gradually over the next year; pull out after Iraqi troops are capable of taking over; send more troops?" Twenty-two percent responded "pull out immediately," and 42 percent answered "pull out all troops gradually over the next year." While the Fox News poll does not include the option of a withdrawal of most troops, with the long-term retention of a limited number for specific purposes -- a proposal favored by many members of Congress -- the poll found that a total of 64 percent of those surveyed said that U.S. troops should be out of Iraq sooner than is scheduled to occur under the Petraeus plan.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll taken September 7-10 with a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points asked about withdrawal from Iraq as follows:

I'm going to read you several possible outcomes to the war in Iraq. Please tell me which one of these would be the most acceptable outcome to you. A) Maintain the number of troops there now, and U.S. troops leave only after Iraq becomes a stable democracy, however long this takes. B) U.S. troops leave within the next year even if violence in Iraq continues, but some troops remain in the region to prevent the conflict from spreading. C) U.S. troops begin the process of leaving now regardless of conditions in Iraq. Or are none of these acceptable to do?

Thirty-seven percent of respondents answered "U.S. troops leave within the next year even if violence in Iraq continues, but some troops remain in the region to prevent the conflict from spreading." Twenty-six percent answered "U.S. troops begin the process of leaving now regardless of conditions in Iraq." In total, 63 percent of respondents should be out of Iraq sooner than is scheduled to occur under the Petraeus plan.

Second, the Hill used terms in its headline that were not used by Rasmussen in describing the poll's results, and the article omits significant information. The headline asserted "solid" support for Petraeus's "plan." The assertion of "solid" support for the recommendation does not appear in the writeup of the Rasmussen poll itself, and, indeed, while the poll found 43 percent support, it also found that 57 percent either oppose Petraeus's recommendation or are unsure.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
The Hill
Stories/Interests
Polling
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