That’s a tough question, one that this recent survey by the University of Maryland’s Programme on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) and Knowledge Networks cannot answer outright. No matter what the answer is, it’s obvious that Dubyer’s fans don’t really know the man they want to keep as president.
Three out of four self-described supporters of President George W Bush still believe pre-war Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or active programmes to produce them, and that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein gave “substantial support” to al-Qaeda terrorists, according to a survey released Thursday.
Moreover, as many or more Bush supporters hold those beliefs today than they did several months ago, before the publication of a series of well-publicised official government reports that debunked both notions.
“It is normal during elections for supporters of presidential candidates to have fundamental disagreements about values or strategies,” said an analysis produced by PIPA.
But “the current election is unique in that Bush supporters and Kerry supporters have profoundly different perceptions of reality. In the face of a stream of high-level assessments about pre-war Iraq, Bush supporters cling to the refuted beliefs that Iraq had WMD or supported al-Qaeda.”
Indeed, the only issue on which the survey found broad agreement between the two sets of voters was on the question of whether the administration itself actively propagated the misconceptions about Iraq’s WMD and connections to al-Qaeda.
“One of the reasons that Bush supporters have these (erroneous) beliefs is that they perceive the Bush administration confirming them,” noted PIPA Director Steven Kull. “Interestingly, this is one point on which Bush and Kerry supporters agree.”
The survey also found a major gap between Bush’s stated positions on a number of international issues and what his supporters believe that position to be. A strong majority of Bush backers believe, for example, that the president supports a range of global treaties and institutions, which he is actually on record as opposing.
The survey found 72 percent of Bush supporters believe either that Iraq had actual WMD (47 percent) or a major programme for making them (25 percent), despite the widespread media coverage in early October of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA’s) ‘Duelfer Report’, the final word on the subject by the one-billion-dollar, 15-month investigation by the Iraq Survey Group.
It concluded Hussein had dismantled all of his WMD programmes shortly after the 1991 Gulf War and had never tried to reconstitute them.
Nonetheless, 56 percent of Bush supporters said they thought most experts currently believe Iraq had actual WMD, and 57 percent said they thought the Duelfer Report had concluded that Iraq either had WMD (19 percent) or a major WMD programme (38 percent).
Seventy-five percent of Bush supporters said they believed Iraq was providing “substantial” support to al-Qaeda, with 20 percent asserting Baghdad was directly involved in the 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
Sixty-three percent of Bush supporters even believed that clear evidence of such support has been found, and 60 percent believed “most experts” have reached the same conclusion.
Remarkably, asked whether the United States should have gone to war with Iraq if U.S. intelligence had concluded Baghdad did not have a WMD programme and was not supporting al-Qaeda, 58 percent of Bush supporters said no, and 61 percent said they assumed the president would also not have gone to war under those circumstances.
“To support the president and to accept that he took the U.S. to war based on mistaken assumptions,” said Kull, “likely creates substantial cognitive dissonance and leads Bush supporters to suppress awareness of unsettling information about pre-war Iraq.”
Kull added that this “cognitive dissonance” could also help explain other remarkable findings in the survey, particularly with respect to Bush supporters’ misperceptions about the president’s own positions.
In particular, majorities of Bush supporters incorrectly assumed he supports multilateral approaches to various international issues, including the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) (69 percent), the land mine treaty (72 percent), and the Kyoto Protocol to curb greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming (51 percent).
In all of these cases, majorities of Bush supporters said they favoured the positions that they imputed, incorrectly, to the president.
Bush supporters were also found to hold misperceptions regarding international support for the president and his policies.
Despite a steady flow over the past year of official statements by foreign governments and public-opinion polls showing strong opposition to the Iraq war, less than one-third of Bush supporters believed that most people in foreign countries opposed Washington having gone to war.
Two-thirds said they believed foreign views were either evenly divided on the war (42 percent) or that the majority of foreigners actually favoured the war (26 percent).