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Parsing the Polls: A Look at the Iraq Question

Welcome to "Parsing the Polls," The Fix's weekly feature looking at interesting political survey research.  Today we tackle the Iraq question with a look at a new bipartisan poll that measures how the ongoing debate in Washington is influencing the public perception of the war.

The poll was done by Thomas Riehle and Lance Tarrance, partners in the firm RT Strategies. Riehle, a Democrat, cut his teeth under Peter Hart and Pat Caddell (two of the most renowned pollsters in the party), while Tarrance is a living poll legend among Republicans.

Their latest results, which come from calls made to 1,001 adults from Nov. 17-20, suggest that the American public views Democratic criticism of the war as debilitating to troop morale and born of a hope for political gain. (Read RT's press release, topline and tabs for the poll.)

When the two pollsters asked "when Democrats 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," 70 percent of those tested said it hurts morale compared to 12 percent who said it helps morale. Forty-four percent said it "hurts morale a lot" with 26 percent saying it "hurts morale some."

On the question of whether "you believe [Democrats] are criticizing the President's policy because they believe their criticisms will help the United States's effort in Iraq or criticizing the President's policy to gain a partisan political advantage," 31 percent of voters chose the former option, 51 percent the latter. Six percent chose the "some of both" option; six percent chose neither.

Asked about what the next step should be in regard to American forces in Iraq, 16 percent chose "withdraw our troops immediately, regardless of the impact," 49 percent said "withdraw our troops as the Iraqi government and military meet specific goals and objectives" and 30 percent endorsed "a fixed publicly available timetable for withdrawal."

The sample in the RT survey was 31 percent Republican, 33 percent Democratic and 35 percent independent. According to 2004 exit polls, the electorate was 37 percent Republican, 37 percent Democratic and 26 percent independent.

The RT results come as a slew of other national polls show the American public saying they disapprove of President Bush's handling of the Iraq war by a two-to-one margin. The ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted earlier this month showed just 36 percent approving of Bush's "handling of the situation in Iraq" compared to 64 percent who disapproved. Fifty-eight percent said that Bush "has not given good reasons for why the United States must keep troops in Iraq" while 38 percent said he had justified the troop presence.

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey published on Nov. 14 showed that only 35 percent supported the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq conflict, with 54 percent saying the invasion was a mistake. (Scroll down on the link above to see the survey details.)  A Harris Interactive poll written up in the Wall Street Journal this week found that just 32 percent of respondents "say they are confident" that Iraq will develop into a stable democracy, and nearly two-thirds (63 percent) said U.S. troops should be brought home from Iraq within a year.   

What do you make of these seemingly conflicting results? Is the RT Strategies polling an anomaly? Or is it a sign that while voters don't approve of the Bush administration's handling of Iraq, they also don't view Democrats as altruistic opposition messengers? And how do Democrats leap that hurdle? Please post your thoughts and theories in the comments section below.

For Jersey D's, Codey May Be the Best Bet

Look at the latest Quinnipiac University survey on the 2006 New Jersey Senate race -- a race that's probably the best example of raw politics in the current cycle.

The news is best for Acting Gov. Richard Codey (D), who scored an astronomical 68 percent to 16 percent favorable/unfavorable rating in the survey and led the Democratic field of potential Senate appointees with 43 percent. (Codey has not publicly expressed an interest in the Senate seat being vacated by Gov.-elect Jon Corzine, although he is being cajoled to consider it by national Democrats.)

Rep. Bob Menendez was second in the hypothetical primary matchup with 14 percent; Reps. Rob Andrews and Frank Pallone got 10 and eight percent, respectively. Rep. Rush Holt, who has also expressed an interest in being Corzine's pick to serve out the remaining year of his Senate term, was not tested. Corzine is expected to make his pick before the Christmas holidays but has not showed his hand thus far.

In general election matchups against state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (the likely GOP nominee), Codey again emerged as the strongest of the Democrats, besting Kean 55 percent to 32 percent. Menendez led Kean 41 percent to 39 percent; Pallone and Kean were tied at 38 percent; and Kean led Andrews 39 percent to 38 percent.  Here's my most recent write-up of the New Jersey Senate race landscape.

By Chris Cillizza  |  November 23, 2005; 8:11 AM ET
Categories:  Parsing the Polls  
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