Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Wednesday, September 17, 2003  

A couple weeks ago, PIPA (Program on International Policy Attitudes at the U of Maryland) released an important study on Americans' attitudes toward terrorism (.pdf file). Friday they released a subsequent report about attitudes toward Iraq (again, .pdf). If you're a researchy-type person, I recommend them as interesting reading. More to the point, though, are a couple findings I found instructive.

In the terrorism study, Americans gave contradictory responses. On the one hand, three-quarters felt either no more safe over the past two years (48%), or less safe (28%). Yet on the other, nearly half (46%) felt that the President's handling of terrorism has reduced the risk of terror. Is this surprising? (Yeah, yeah, if you're reading this blog, you're not surprised.) No. People answered one question from the point of view of their personal safety, and one from the point of view of their patriotic support of the President.

Digging a little deeper, nearly all opinion is against the President's policies. People believe his policies are too assertive (54%) and that the US should be more cooperative (66%). They think we should put less emphasis on military solutions, more emphasis on diplomatic and economic solutions (35% to 58%). And fully 81% felt that "the US needs to work more closely with other countries to fight terrorism."

More: 78% feel the US should "make greater efforts to improve relations with people in the Islamic world," and two-thirds feel the US should play a smaller role in the Middle East. In terms of our policies, a majority (58%) feel we're playing too much a "policeman" role in the Middle East, that we should decrease our military presence there (64%), and that our military presence increases the likelihood of terrorism (64%).

So, Americans don't like the President's policies. This was supposed to be a strength of his going into the next election cycle. Presumably, these attitudes will stay roughly the same, because they're not hinged to success or failure in Iraq (the safety question, for example, has been steady for two years). But there's a strong cautionary note here. People still support the man. And when the election happens, people won't be casting votes for policies, but for people. If the Democrats turn the campaign into a personal attack, there's a risk of swinging people who dislike the President's policies back into his camp.

The strategy, then: give respect to the man and the job he's done, but highlight policy differences. Stay away from personal attacks. Even at this stage of the campaign, it behooves the candidates to mind the difference between these two. In this regard, the entrance of Wesley Clark into the campaign is probably a good thing--it will elevate the discource to policy. Anyway, that's my hope.

These findings are hopeful. Despite a constant stream of patriotic rhetoric from the White House, over-the-top reportage of 9/11 rememberances and the war, people have mostly kept their eye on the ball.

posted by Jeff | 9:01 AM |
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