This week, a number of high-profile journalists and bloggers are engaged in a debate about presidential persuasion. Among other examples, they have been discussing the George W. Bush administration’s selling of the Iraq war — leading political scientists at the The Monkey Cage to weigh in with data and useful analysis.
Much of the discussion about the Iraq war centers around this chart, which details the contours of support for the war based on party identification.
I left the following in comments, but wanted to add key links:
The Bush administration really starting selling war in late August and early September 2002, so prior data is not especially relevant to the question of presidential persuasion. Andrew Card was quoted in the NYT the 1st week of September 2002: “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” In August, Card formed the White House Iraq Group and on the 26th of that month, Cheney spoke to the VFW. From that time until war began in March 2003, Republican support for war increased by over 5% despite a starting position at nearly 80% — and despite open skepticism expressed in the NYT & WSJ by Bush I stalwarts James Baker & Brent Scowcroft. At the same time, Independent support for war remained flat at about 60%, and Democratic support remained between 45-50%. I’m pretty sure Gallup polling from the last 25 years showed 2003 as the nadir for Democratic party ID, meaning that at least some ex-Democrats were suddenly telling pollsters they were pro-war Independents or Republicans.
Some elites may well have become skeptical over time, but media coverage of the case for war was decidedly uncritical and newspaper op-ed pages were overwhelmingly pro-war, especially after the Colin Powell presentation at the UNSC.
In any case, the selling of the Iraq war was remarkable and fairly unique, so we should be careful generalizing from it.