Wash. Post's Murray cited flawed poll, repeated GOP claim that "the public has grown more patient on Iraq"

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

In a Washington Post article, Shailagh Murray wrote: "GOP Senate offices circulated the results of a Gallup poll released this week that showed 54 percent of those surveyed think [Gen. David] Petraeus's plan for removing troops is the right pace, or even too quick." However, this poll question did not explain to respondents how many troops Petraeus' plan called for removing or over what period of time this withdrawal would take place. Other polling shows that when respondents are told specifically what Petraeus recommended, the results are dramatically different.

In a September 22 Washington Post article, staff writer Shailagh Murray asserted that "Republicans sounded emboldened" during the September 21 Senate debate on the Iraq war and that they argued "[t]he public has grown more patient on Iraq ... after a report last week from Army Gen. David H. Petraeus." Murray later wrote: "GOP Senate offices circulated the results of a Gallup poll released this week that showed 54 percent of those surveyed think Petraeus's plan for removing troops is the right pace, or even too quick," adding, "One-third of those surveyed viewed the withdrawal as moving too slowly." However, this poll question did not explain to respondents how many troops Petraeus' plan called for removing or over what period of time this withdrawal would take place. Other polling shows that when respondents are told specifically what Petraeus recommended, the results are dramatically different. Further, the USA Today/Gallup poll's full findings do not support Republicans' assertion -- uncritically reported by Murray -- that Americans have "grown more patient on Iraq."

In a September 14 Washington Post article, staff writers Peter Baker and Karen DeYoung reported that President Bush endorsed Petraeus' recommendation to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq -- a withdrawal of "roughly 21,700 troops" by the summer of 2008, according to the Post, "starting with 5,700 troops by Christmas" of 2007, which would "return the overall force in Iraq to close to where it was at the beginning of" 2007.

But the USA Today/Gallup poll, which was conducted September 14-16 and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points, did not provide respondents with information on the size of the withdrawal that Petraeus called for and Bush endorsed, nor did it explain the period of time over which this withdrawal is scheduled to take place. Instead, the poll requested that respondents answer two questions about the plan based on what they "may have heard or read about" it. Respondents were first asked:

As you may know, George W. Bush is adopting General Petraeus' recommendations for future troop levels in Iraq. Based on what you have heard or read about this plan, do you think General Petraeus' plan calls for -- too few U.S. troops to be withdrawn from Iraq, the right amount, or too many U.S. troops to be withdrawn from Iraq?

The poll found that 36 percent of respondents said the plan called for "too few" troops to be withdrawn, 43 percent said it was the "right amount," and 9 percent said the plan pulls out "too many" troops. As a follow-up question, respondents were asked:

Still thinking about this plan, do you think General Petraeus' plan calls for -- U.S. troops to be withdrawn too slowly from Iraq, withdrawals to occur at the right pace, or U.S. troops to be withdrawn too quickly from Iraq?

In response, 33 percent said "General Petraeus' plan" called for troops to be withdrawn "too slowly," while 42 percent said withdrawals would "occur at the right place," and 12 percent said it called for them to be withdrawn "too quickly." In her article, Murray reported that the poll "showed 54 percent of those surveyed think Petraeus's plan for removing troops is the right pace, or even too quick," but did not note that almost three times as many respondents said the plan will withdraw troops "too slowly" from Iraq than "too quickly."

By contrast, a CBS News poll conducted September 14-16 provided respondents with additional context regarding Bush and Petraeus' withdrawal plan and found that a greater percentage said the proposal removes too few troops. The poll asked: "President Bush has proposed reducing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to pre-surge levels by the summer of 2008. Do you think by next summer, he should remove more troops than that, remove fewer troops than that, or is that the right amount to remove?" Forty-seven percent said that he should remove "more troops," with an additional 3 percent volunteering the answer that he should "[r]emove all troops now." Only 36 percent said he should "remove fewer troops" or that that was "the right amount to remove." From the poll:

q67 President Bush has proposed reducing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to pre-surge levels by the summer of 2008. Do you think by next summer, he should remove more troops than that, remove fewer troops than that, or is that the right amount to remove?

** TOTAL RESPONDENTS **
****Party ID****
Total Rep Dem Ind
% % % %
Remove more troops 47 20 69 45
Remove fewer troops 7 12 3 7
Right amount 29 51 17 26
Depends (Vol.) 5 3 4 8
Remove all now (Vol.) 3 1 2 4
DK/NA 9 13 6 9

Further, as Talking Points Memo blogger Greg Sargent noted, the Gallup poll also contained findings that do not indicate that "[t]he public has grown more patient on Iraq" since Petraeus' report. However, Murray did not report these findings in her article. From Sargent's September 22 post:

As it happens, the very same poll that Murray allows these GOPers to cherry pick from has a bunch of other numbers in it, too. It finds that 59% want a timetable for withdrawal and that barely one-third think the surge is having a positive effect. Indeed, the pollsters themselves conclude that most of the public's opinions on Iraq "run contrary to the message delivered by Petraeus to Congress last week."

The only numbers from this poll that make it into Murray's piece, however, are the ones that GOP Senate staffers circulated.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
Person
Shailagh Murray
Stories/Interests
Polling
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