Iraq Is, and Will Remain, THE Issue

Over in Breaking Blue Matt makes an interesting catch that bears expanding on: According to an article today in The Politico by Ben Smith, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman Chuck Schumer believes that the 2008 elections will not center on the issue of Iraq. To be specific, Schumer told Smith, "I think Iraq will not be as strong an issue in the 2008 elections," and that he believes that "the surge will fail and the president will have no choice but to begin removing troops."

Leaving aside, for a moment, whether or not the President will admit that his surge is a failure and will begin to redeploy troops out of Iraq before the election, it's instructive to take a look at how public sentiments currently stand on American involvement in Iraq, not only in terms of sheer numbers, with somewhere between 50 percent and 70 percent of the country disapproving of the war, but also in terms of what these numbes mean. Over at the Mystery Pollster blog on, Mark Blumenthal writes the following:

You rarely see media pollsters cite correlation coefficients in their reports. On the other hand, you rarely see a correlation as strong as the one ABC News Polling Director Gary Langer cites in his tour de force summary of public attitudes on the State of the Union:

The root of Bush's problems can be summed up in three words: Iraq, Iraq and Iraq. It drives his unpopularity. Among people who oppose the war, a mere 10 percent approve of Bush's job performance; among war supporters, three-quarters approve. The correlation between attitudes on the war and on Bush is a near-perfect .98.

The extraordinary polarizing effect of the Iraq War explains more than Bush's problems. It is also the lens through which Americans currently view much of our national politics. While pollsters have been making that point since the 2004 elections, the dominance of the Iraq War on our politics has obviously intensified. Right now, for better or worse, it's all about Iraq.

It would be difficult to illustrate more clearly, beyond Langer's numbers cited by Blumenthal, that Iraq is the schism within the electorate today. No other issue -- not abortion rights, not taxes, and certainly not immigration -- creates as deep a cleavage among American voters as does the war in Iraq. Given these numbers, it's difficult to envision Iraq not being the issue come November 2008. Public sentiments do change over time. But in the absence of some radical change on the ground -- either all of the sectarian violence suddenly disappearing or, say, the President pulling up all stakes in the country -- Americans aren't going to simply stop caring about Iraq any time in the next two years.

As for Schumer's prediction that the President will admit the failure of his escalation plan to solve Iraq's problems and consequently decide to withdraw American forces, it is as wrong as the thinking that the President would use the cover of the Iraq Study Group to withdraw troops -- or, for that matter, the killing of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, any one of Iraq's national elections, or any other supposedly monumental event. Smarter people than me have said it, but it's clear to me (as I've written before -- here and here, for example) that the plan being forwarded by President Bush and John McCain to increase the number of American troops in Iraq is about one thing, and one thing alone: prolonging the war. So anyone who believes that the move will hasten the day that America can withdraw its forces, thus taking Iraq off of the table as the central issue in American politics today, is just plain wrong.

Tags: Democrats, George W. Bush, Iraq (all tags)



Re: Iraq Is, and Will Remain, THE Issue

The only way Bush will pull out of Iraq is if he is forced to, either by our asses getting kicked out of the Green Zone and our land supply lines cut, or by our Congress passing with veto-proof support a new AUMF dictating withdrawal, and superseding previous AUMFs applicable to Iraq.

I'd say the first is a good deal more likely than the second.  But our having 100,000+ troops in Iraq two years from now is considerably more likely than both put together.

by RT 2007-01-25 01:47PM | 0 recs
Re: Iraq Is, and Will Remain, THE Issue

Don't forget the 100,000 contractors.  It's going to take a long time to get out.

by jayackroyd 2007-01-25 05:48PM | 0 recs
Re: Iraq Is, and Will Remain, THE Issue

Stubborn politicians don't withdraw, no matter the consequences.  Land supply was cut to Berlin and we airlifted supplies in.  That was 1948.  The French got cut off at Dienbienphu and Hitler failed to evacuate Stalingrad.

I'm afraid it is most likely that George W. Bush will either expand this war or run out the clock and leave the mess to a more sensible successor.  Much as I want Bush gone, I certainly want no replay of some of those past debacles.

by David Kowalski 2007-01-25 06:46PM | 0 recs
Re: Iraq Is, and Will Remain, THE Issue

I am this close to completely giving up on the Democratic Party. I swear to god I feel like we have made zero difference whatsoever with our national leaders.

Schumer saying that Iraw will not be an issue in 2008 is about as insane as George Bush saying this surge will work. In what kind of deluded world is Schumer living in where jobs and healthcare trump the Iraq war? That's the same Rahm Emanuel was living in one year ago when he mentioned that Dems didn't have a plan on Iraq and didn't need to have one because the American people cared more about jobs. In the same world that Daschle was living in when in 2002 he railroaded the IWR so they could get back to talking about the economy only to get trounced in the election. The same world in which our 2004 nominee for president can't bring himself to say that knowing then what he knew now he would vote against the war.

The Democratic Party is officially and irrevocably ridiculous. I don't see how this changes any time soon. What a pathetic party we have to be in because we are blackmailed into voting for these incompetent idiots because we have no choice.

If Hillary is the nominee then that will break the camel's back for me. But if they keep this bullshit up it may happen even sooner.

by need some wood 2007-01-25 02:12PM | 0 recs
You Misunderstand

You think that the Democratic Party is supposed to be some sort of holy vessel, which leads you to severe disappointment.

But this is fundamentally mistaken. The Democratic Party is just one more arena of struggle. And the extreme unpopularity of Bush's war is a tremendous strategic tool for driving the imbeciles, stooges, and corporate drones out of positions of power within the party.

One word, dude: P-R-I-M-A-R-Y!

Stick around.  It will be fun.

by Paul Rosenberg 2007-01-25 03:30PM | 0 recs
Re: You Misunderstand

Exactly.  The Democratic Party, as it is, isn't going to save us.  But rather, the Democratic party is the best available vehicle through which we can save the country.

by RT 2007-01-26 11:12AM | 0 recs
Re: Iraq Is, and Will Remain, THE Issue

I am going to play devils advocate here for a second.  If, in fact, Bushes poor poll numbers are almost exclusively b/c of our presence in Iraq, shouldn't withdrawal from Iraq help his poll numbers or at least stabilize them?

by John Mills 2007-01-25 02:14PM | 0 recs
Re: Iraq Is, and Will Remain, THE Issue

I want to add that I don't think Bush will withdraw but if he does actually see the light it would not shock me if it does alter the political landscape somewhat.  

by John Mills 2007-01-25 02:16PM | 0 recs
Re: Iraq Is, and Will Remain, THE Issue

We must realize that war-fever is deeply embedded in the Democratic Party and it is up to us find a cure.  It puzzles me that they will dig in their heels over Iraq but if they do it will much easier to defeat them.  Prowar Hiliary could easily pretend to be against the war but she won't even do that.  I think that will make it easier to defeat her but it is important to not go wobbly on her once she starts sounding like an antiwar candidate.

For those who believe jobs and health care are the burning issues, I recall the 1968 election with Humphrey going around the country trying to rally voters with the economic issues of that day.  It was a Republican that won that one as the antiwar candidate.

by syvanen 2007-01-25 02:42PM | 0 recs
Re: Iraq Is, and Will Remain, THE Issue

As far as the 68 election is concerned:  The Draft!

by Brad 2007-01-25 02:45PM | 0 recs
Re: Iraq Is, and Will Remain, THE Issue

Conscription definitely had an impact on the nature of the protest against Vietnam, an issue of civil liberty and class as well as morality.  But the distinction is not particularly important if you still end up in a coffin with a flag draped over it.

The point is, as unbelievable as it seems today, Richard Nixon ran, as a centrist Republican, in 1968 as the candidate who promised to end the war in Vietnam!  And he succeeded.

We are trying to avoid allowing something that ridiculous to happen again.

by Shaun Appleby 2007-01-25 05:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Iraq Is, and Will Remain, THE Issue

I'm not sure I don't agree with Schumer.  (Did I say that?)  Iraq may have been the number one issue in '06 but it was buttressed by economic concerns, Katrina, corruption, immigration, privacy rights and other domestic concerns that the Republicans had fumbled.  If those issues hadn't existed, I'm not convinced there would have been the same change in Congress.  The Democrats will now be judged on what they do about those issues PLUS Iraq.  If the electorate concludes that there is only so much a Congress can do about foreign policy, it's domestic policy the Dems will be judge on.  If the economy tanks--all bets are off!

by Brad 2007-01-25 02:43PM | 0 recs
Re: Iraq Is, and Will Remain, THE Issue

Here's what I don't get. . .why would any Democrat ever, ever try to knock Iraq off the front page?  Okay, aside from Lieberman and HRC, of course.  Um, Senator Schumer, just in case you haven't figured this out, BUSH's FAILURE IN IRAQ IS GOOD FOR THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY.

Now I know that sounds crass, but seriously, Democrats used to have to run against guys like Jim Webb and Paul Hackett.  We took the Senate by winning in Montana.  How would this have happened but for Iraq?  

In this war, we have a microcosm of everything wrong about the Administration.  Greed, incompetence, cruelty, dishonesty, and obstinance all play a major role in Bush's Iraq War. And that reinforces all of the bad that Bush does on a daily basis.  Never was there a better example of why Democrats should be in charge.  So, Senator Schumer if you're reading this (or if one of his staffers is reading this), please don't be an idiot.  Make sure that every Democrat shoves the Iraq War straight up every GOPer's ass.

by Jim Treglio 2007-01-25 02:50PM | 0 recs
Jim, you're right except that good policy...

...dictates that we try, with political smarts so as not to shoot ourselves in the foot, to end the war.  And once Dubya accedes to full withdrawal or a Democratic-endorsed redeployment, then the issue is off the table for 2008.

Short of Dubya agreeing to anything with Dems, we just have to demonstrate strongly, but politically smartly, that we are against the war and want to bring it to an end, and as long as Dubya refuses then sure, we're in great shape politically.

But it is, indeed, an inescapable paradox that good policy is bad for us politically, at least if it's implemented soon enough (i.e., long enough before the 2008 election for the public to mellow on Iraq).

by DCCyclone 2007-01-26 07:52AM | 0 recs
Re: Iraq Is, and Will Remain, THE Issue

I should clarify that I think the war will be one of the deciding issues.  I'm just not convinced that it will be THE deciding issue for most voters.  If it goes badly and Bush backs down the issue will b e more generally one of how to secure American interests in the Middle East and that will be secondary to domestic issues.  If it goes badly and Bush pushes forward you're likely to find  candidates from both parties taking anti-war positions.  If it goes well, then I guess we're all just screwed (domestically) and we wait to highlight and run on domestic issues the next cycle. (That doesn't sound very good, does it?)

by Brad 2007-01-25 02:51PM | 0 recs
Re: Iraq Is, and Will Remain, THE Issue

Brad, I really enjoy your posts but I want to make a point about the war in Iraq vs domestic issues that hopefully speaks to the blog topic as well.  IMHO the war in Iraq is the single defining issue for the US at this time, not just in respect of the 2008 election, but in respect of the future of the US and it's place in the world.

Things have changed.  The US in still the world's greatest military and economic power but this is by no means a given.  And the war in Iraq is the most significant impactor on the future of the position of the US in the world.  Have a look at his recent article on the BBC World Service, the results of a poll on world public opinion regarding the US which has a very large sample and includes a range of nations which are representative of nations important to our future.  It is not good news.

I don't believe it is possible, these days, for the US to address issues relating to the prosperity and quality of life of its citizens without resolving this issue first and emphatically.  The US 'brand' is taking a hammering and this will trickle down to the aspirations and condition of every US worker and their families.  Health care, social security, employment are all issues intrinsically connected to the moral standing of the US in the world, more so today than ever before.

And don't rely on our elites, our 'captains of industry' to make this connection, in many ways they have already bailed out and left the working class to deal with the consequences by moving their profits centres offshore and diversifying their investments to wherever the profits are greatest.  Those of us who are truly concerned about the prosperity of the US 'working class' have only one recourse to reassert our power, by voting for their own best interests and bringing this war to a prompt conclusion.

by Shaun Appleby 2007-01-25 06:35PM | 0 recs
Re: Iraq Is, and Will Remain, THE Issue

Shaun, I wouldn't disagree (well, maybe just a little) with your post.  I do think, however, that even if Iraq is the "defining issue" of our times, it doesn't necessarily follow that it will be the "defining issue" of the 2008 election.  I don't pretend to be able follow the political/intellectual machinations of Charles Schumer. I do think, however, that it would not be wise to put all the progressive eggs in the Iraq basket.

by Brad 2007-01-26 04:40AM | 0 recs
Re: Iraq Is, and Will Remain, THE Issue

Shaun, after re-reading your post I think my objection is to the notion that we shouldn't make room on the front page for progressive issues because to do so would dilute attention from the "winning issue" of the war.  An observation:  Being against the war isn't an exclusively progressive position and the longer it goes on the less clearly identifiably progressive that position will be.

If progressives want to put pressure on the Democratic Party we're going to have to bring identifiably progressive issues and policies onto the "front page." I doubt that Schumer's ideas for tax policy, health care, education, etc. would be acceptable to the progressive community but...he has the power to bring those issues forward where they can be publicly debated.  They need a place in the national dialogue in the next two years.  If not, the only electoral mandate will be to "end the war?"  That franchise isn't likely to be the exclusive property of progressive candidates.  

by Brad 2007-01-26 05:36AM | 0 recs
Re: Iraq Is, and Will Remain, 'the' Issue

I completely agree with you that there are crucial progressive domestic issues that need attention and also would not like to see them asphyxiated by anti-war debates.  Let's say the war is 'the' issue but perhaps not 'THE' issue.  Like having a massive toothache that makes other meaningful activity, like paying the bills and getting the car serviced, a lower priority until the pain is relieved.  Not to mention the $1T cost of the war has evacuated the treasury and blown out the deficit.

Having said that, I am confident that the US electorate can walk and chew gum at the same time and look forward to proposals from progressive Democrats for structural changes to health care, social security and immigration, to name but a few.

by Shaun Appleby 2007-01-26 12:42PM | 0 recs
Re: On the Other Hand, It May Not Be Iraq...

We may be in a war with Iran. And, that's a better bet than that Bush will have the fantastical "epiphany" and suddenly see the light about Iraq, and withdraw troops.

But, of course, it may be that Schumer knows something others don't. Maybe GOP leaders have told Bush that he gets six months, and then it's withdrawal or resignation, or.....(drum roll please) IMPEACHMENT.

Oh, God How I Wish...but I don't bet on wishes, and my bet is that we're going to be in a war with Iran by the end of this year.

And, I bet it'll be Hillary Clinton for the democrats for 2008.

by Tennessean 2007-01-25 03:24PM | 0 recs
Re: On the Other Hand, It May Not Be Iraq...

So, if we're at war with Iran by then-- I wonder what side Edwards will be on?

by Brad 2007-01-25 03:28PM | 0 recs
Let's Hear It For Correlation Coefficients!

0.98!  OMFG!!! What more do you want?!?!?!

Almost as astonishing is this:

In another concern, 72 percent think the war in Iraq has hampered the U.S. military's ability to respond to conflicts elsewhere, and 53 percent call this a "major problem."
To my knowledge, no one has made this a talking point in the national media. But the American people figured it out all by themselves.

Now, if the Democrats could just pound on this majoritarian position for the next three months, every time they're in front of a camera, do you think it would make a difference maybe?  Why don't we try it and find out???

There is a secret in politics: ride the horse in the direction it's going.  There are times, of course, when this is deeply immoral, and you should not do it.  There are other times when it's pretty much a wash, but gaining power generally can be used to do good on other fronts.  And then there are situations like this, which are pure gravey (except, of course for the thousands upon thousands of people being killed every month).

Do you think we could us some political leaders who know gravy when they see it???

I do. Just dial P-R-I-M-A-R-Y!

by Paul Rosenberg 2007-01-25 03:25PM | 0 recs
Re: Iraq Is, and Will Remain, THE Issue

I'm not sure it's quite as simple as "Iraq is driving the President's negatives (or positives)." Yes, there's a near-perfect correlation of views, but that doesn't mean there's a perfect correlation of causality. Iraq is THE dominant issue, which is why it's a fault line; no one can be neutral on it. Blumenthal is right to say it's the "lens" through which we see politics, but he's wrong to say "it's all about Iraq," if you know what I mean.

Iraq is playing out as the embodiment of some underlying perceptions, while exacerbating them at the same time. Bush is a miserable failure as a President. He'd be a miserable failure without Iraq, as well. All of the cronyism, corruption, mendacity ... the whole spectrum of negative consequences of GOP rule are in high relief in Iraq, but they aren't caused by Iraq.

Anyway, that's a bit of a rambling side-bar to the main point of the post. As for that ... yeah, what you said. Iraq will be the defining issue of the 2008 cycle, and all of Hillary's money can't change that fact.

by BriVT 2007-01-25 03:26PM | 0 recs
Re: Iraq Is, and Will Remain, THE Issue

Very well said.  With more than a year b/f the primaries and 22 months b/f the general election (a millenium in politics), I don't want to say what will be the defining issue of the election.  There are too many variables.  

What if Bush sees the light or is force to pull out of Iraq by Congress?  How does that impact the election?

God forbid there is another terrorist attack, how does that impact the election?

The economy, enegy prices rise/fall, health care could all have huge impacts on the election.

If little changes b/w now and Nov 2008, then Iraq will be the dominant issue.

by John Mills 2007-01-25 03:57PM | 0 recs
Re: Iraq Is, and Will Remain, THE Issue

If our current crop of Democratic "leaders" had been in charge in 1932 they would have argued against "The New Deal" and explain that the Great Depression was not really that big of a deal and people were more interested in micro-issues that they keep pushing.

Once FDR got beat by Hoover, they would have blamed it on the netroots or their 1932 equivilants.

by JackBourassa 2007-01-25 03:48PM | 0 recs
Re: Iraq Is, and Will Remain, THE Issue

AIPAC wanted this war and Shumer has not forgotten.Dont want to get to far on the anti war scene then backpedal on Iran.

by Bucky1 2007-01-25 04:01PM | 0 recs
Re: Iraq Is, and Will Remain, THE Issue

where has Shcumer been for the past 6 years to conclude that bush/cheney would EVER recognize that one of their grand schemes failed...and even if they did, that their next move would be to redeploy troops out of Iraq? Such thinking is just plain NUTS! There is zero evidence to support such conclusions and overwhelming evidence to conclude that neither of those wishful-thinking events (admitted failure and troop withdrawl) would ever occur with bush.

It is REALLY discouraging that such an important democratic figure could be such a dumbass.

by gak 2007-01-25 05:25PM | 0 recs
Statistically speaking

I have been known to voice my opinion on the way statistics have been dealt with, here on this site, esp. chris bowers articles.

Therefore I will say without reservation that this post is the best treatment, statistically, that I have seen in a year.

Correlation of .98 is in my line of work, unbelievably good. We deal with correlations of
.20, which concatenated, provide reasonable results.  That is of course using markov modeling, where one probability is multiplied by the others and then the boundaries are set, choosing from a limited field.

That is the essence of good statistics in politics: if you've ever engaged someone in a political discussion, you'll find it quite open ended.

But in fact, there are really only a few relevant issues - that any political discussion at any given time, can hope to deal with. Not to say a limited number, but definitely only a finite number.  The cultural activists here who incessantly discuss gay marriage are a good example - they will discuss whether or not someone is felt at home, treated like a son or daughter in law, etc. crossing all boundaries of politics - but never once acknowledge the issue voted down. The issue is votes.

And that is why this post is so well done. Votes center on particular issues - this post uses statistics in a meaningful manner - and I would agree with the author.

Thank you

by heyAnita 2007-01-25 06:30PM | 0 recs
Re: Statistically speaking

Now that you mention it, just how did this guy get a correlation of .98?  I agree that there's a strong positive correlation here, but .98 makes no sense at all to me.

Think of a scatterplot where you've just got four places where your data points can congregate: (Y,Y), (Y,N), (N,Y), and (N,N) where the first coordinate is yes or no on approving of the war in Iraq, and the second is yes or no on approving of Bush.

Langer says that 70% of respondents are against the war, and only 10% support Bush.  But 75% of the war supporters support Bush.

Assuming no undecideds, that means we have 22.5% of the population liking both Bush and the war, 63% against them both, and 7% and 7.5% split, liking Bush but not the war, or vice versa, respectively.  

Your least-squares line is going to go almost right through (Y,Y) and (N,N), but the 14.5% of the population that's skewed in the other direction prevents a near-perfect correlation.  (I'm getting closer to .65, which is still quite good, but it's not .98.)

by RT 2007-01-26 11:05AM | 0 recs
Re: Iraq Is, and Will Remain, THE Issue
The problems in Iraq, all of them, not just the loss of life, will not be addressed while George Bush and Dick Cheny are still in office. We can not wait 23 more months to begin a sequence that might settle these problems. When are Americans, not just Democrats, going to realise this. 23 more months of the present administration and republicans running for office will be lucky if they can be elected dog catcher. The time for impeachment is now, not tomorow when perhaps your son or your cousin has been killed by Iraqi's who don't have the faintest concept of what freedom means.
Wally Provost
by wallyn4bz 2007-01-26 04:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Iraq Is, and Will Remain, THE Issue

The surge will fail and the Republicans will turn on their beloved leader out of pure self preservation. Either kill the king or face total extinction. That will be their choice and they will kill their king. George will leave office before 2008 and the troops will be headed home before election time. Once that happens, America will want to forget Iraq ASAP. The average American would rather ignore or forget a failure. When this happens, the only way to forget Iraq will be to focus on domestic policies. This will help remove Iraq from the front page. Time and Newsweek will say that readers are tired of Iraq and Iraq based covers no longer sell. Iraq may indeed not be THE issue. It will be A issue but maybe not THE issue of 2008. This is not a prediction but a possibility.

by Slappy 2007-01-26 07:06AM | 0 recs
Schumer isn't all that wrong because...

...he is right that if Bush agrees to a withdrawal or redeployment in concurrence with the Democratic Congress, then indeed Iraq will be off the table for the 2008 election.  Voters have short memories for the most part, although some events can and do have a more longstanding effect on voters' psyche.  I suppose Iraq could have such an effect in making voters trust (or mistrust) both parties equally on national security, but absent that, Iraq won't be an issue if we're well on our way of getting out of the civil war and nation-building there.

For my part, I'm still not 100% convinced that Bush won't succomb to the public will before the end of the year.  His party is in the early stages of implosion, and they will consider bringing the political hammer down on their own President if he doesn't give it up in time to save their electoral hides.  If they don't bring the hammer down, then sure, Dubya will keep us in that quagmire, and we wipe out the GOP in 2008.

by DCCyclone 2007-01-26 08:03AM | 0 recs
Re: Schumer isn't all that wrong because...

So Bush is not only prosecuting a tragic and illegal war but destroying the Republican party.

The more I think about this the more it seems the only moral choice for Democrats is to take a strong and early stand.  To hell with 'non-binding' resolutions, let's have a Constitutional scrap, reassert the war powers of Congress and stop the killing.  

I hope but don't think it will be over by then.  And what about Afghanistan?  Iran?

by Shaun Appleby 2007-01-26 12:50PM | 0 recs
Re: Iraq Is, and Will Remain, THE Issue

Lets face it,the only reason we beat the Rethugs in 2006 was Iraq.Our best hope to win in 2008 is for Bush to stay in Iraq.If we are still bogged down in November 2008,even Saint McCain and Saint Rudy,the two darlings of the media,will go down in a landslide.Bush is digging the Rethugs into a deeper hole,lets not take away his shovel.

by Litvak36 2007-01-27 02:04AM | 0 recs
I think Bush will pull out
I think that 1) Iraq is getting so bad and 2) the poll numbers are so bad that the Republicans will realize that they have to get the issue off the table for 08 or they will be sunk.  
  1. It is obvious that we control nothing in Iraq and that the Green Zone is this close to being overrun.  There is a good chance of a real military debacle that couldn't be hidden or spun as well as a major increase in US deaths.  Now perhaps this could be spun as a tragedy that will call for all in action but I don't think anyone would go for that story.
  2. Remember what happened with Nixon, the Republicans went to him and told him he had do go.  Now this is not the same because Bush and Cheney have an extreme control over the party but all Republicans thinking of running for reelection or election are going to realize that they are doomed.
by msobel 2007-01-27 09:38AM | 0 recs


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