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|It’s Not Just the War, Stupid
Posted on Nov 9, 2006
By David Moore
There can be little doubt that public disaffection with the war in Iraq was a major factor in the Democratic tsunami that rolled over the country this past Election Day.
Indeed, the emerging consensus appears to be that the Democratic victory in Election 2006 was due primarily to public rejection of the war in Iraq. On “NBC Nightly News” the evening after the election, Brian Williams opened the program by making just such a declaration. Robin Toner of The New York Times wrote the day after the election that “this was a nationalized election, and Mr. Bush and Iraq were at the center of it.” On CNN, Bill Schneider cited election night exit poll results that purported to show voters identifying Iraq as the single most important determinant of their vote.
And President Bush reinforced the interpretation, noting at his press conference the day after the election that he recognized voters were not satisfied with the level of progress in Iraq, and that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was resigning so the president could get a set of “fresh eyes” to evaluate the administration’s strategy in the war.
Before conventional wisdom coalesces around the notion that this was an antiwar election, it’s worthwhile to consider what other factors contributed to the rejection of Republican rule. Even as Schneider identified Iraq as the most important issue based on the exit poll, a graph on the screen behind him showed other issues measured by the same poll to be more important. Schneider’s co-anchor, Paula Zahn, noted the discrepancy and wondered aloud whether the percentages weren’t reversed, because Iraq was the least frequently mentioned issue among the four on the chart. It was an awkward moment for Schneider, CNN’s public opinion guru, because the polling data contradicted the framework he was trying to put around the election.
The exit poll Schneider mentioned was conducted election night by the National Election Pool, the consortium of five networks and the Associated Press that funds the election night projection system. A representative sample of more than 13,000 voters from around the country was interviewed as the people exited from their voting stations. Among other things, voters were asked how important each of several issues was to their vote. The results are instructive:
The three most often cited issue areas are corruption/ethics, the economy, and terrorism. Forty-one percent of the voters said corruption was “extremely” important to their vote, and 33 percent more said “very” important—for a total of 74 percent. Note that Iraq comes in fifth behind “value issues” when we rank-order the items by the percentage who say “extremely” important (35 percent), and it comes in fourth if we rank-order the items by the percentage who say either “extremely” or “very” important (67 percent).
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