According to a poll done by the University of Maryland in March 2004, 57% of Americans continue to believe that Iraq was providing substantial support to Al Qaeda before the war. This breaks down to 29% saying that "A few al-Qaeda individuals visited Iraq or had contact with Iraqi officials" and 37% saying that "Iraq gave substantial support to al-Qaeda, but was not involved in the September 11th attacks." Also, 20% believe that Iraq was directly involved in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

How can they believe that? 45% believe that evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda has been found. I'm not sure about the remaining 12%, who believed in the connection despite the absence of proof, perhaps they just have a gut instinct. Only 15% polled said they are hearing “experts mostly agree Iraq was not providing substantial support to al Qaeda,” while 82% either said that “experts mostly agree Iraq was providing substantial support” (47%) or “experts are evenly divided on the question” (35%). That's outrageous, as anyone following the reports would tell otherwise.

60% of Americans believe that, just before the war, Iraq either had weapons of mass destruction (38%) or had a major program for developing them (22%). Of the 38% who answered that Iraq had actual weapons, 1% said that Iraq had nuclear weapons, 16% said that Iraq had chemical weapons, and 21% said both. Despite statements by Richard Clarke, David Kay, Hans Blix, etc., only 34% polled said they thought most experts believe Iraq did not have WMD, while 65% said most experts say Iraq did have them (30%) or that experts are divided on the question (35%).

One question on the survey asked if the respondent knew what David Kay, who led the US team that searched for WMDs in Iraq, said to Congress. 21% replied that David Kay told Congress that Iraq had actual WMDs and 27% said Iraq had no weapons but a major program for developing them. Part B of the question explained David Kay's conclusion that Iraq had minor activities for developing WMDs, but no actual weapons. After hearing that, 23% said it was their belief that Iraq had actual WMDs (to contrast this, 38% said earlier in the questionnaire that Iraq had WMDs) and 28% expressed a belief that Iraq had no WMDs but did have a major program for developing them. I don't know why that answer is higher than the same answer of the earlier part of the question.

In March 2004, 55% of Americans believe that going to war against Iraq was the right decision, down from 65% in June, 2003. 44% believe it was the wrong decision, up from 29% in the same poll in June '03. Among those who said it was the right thing to do in the previous question, 40% said it was the best thing for the US to do, and 14% said they weren't sure but supported Bush's decision because he was the president.

Perhaps the American people are cynical; 64% of Americans think that Bush would have gone to war with Iraq even if "US intelligence services had told President Bush there was no reliable evidence that Iraq possessed or was building weapons of mass destruction or was providing substantial support to al Qaeda." 35% believe the war wouldn't have happened. This is startling considering there has been a steady trickle of evidence that there were many nay-sayers in the administration, and Paul O'Neil, Richard Clarke, and Bob Woodward have all authored books recently concerning the issue and White House's internal debate regarding Iraq.

36% of Americans feel that President Bush is "honest and frank," down from 42% in November 2003. People responding that sometimes they have doubts about things he says went up to 63%, up from 56% in that same time period.

The respondents were asked to give their impressions;

  • How many Iraqi civilians do you think were killed between March and April 2003? The median answer was 800, puts the actual number between 8930-10781.
  • About how many American soldiers do you think have been killed by hostile fire in Iraq since the US went to war with Iraq in March 2003? The Median answer given was 500 (as of when the question was asked in March 2004), but the actual figure according to US media is over 723 in April.
The Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA/KN) conducted a nationwide poll over March 16-22, 2004, with a nationwide sample of 1,311 respondents. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.8%-4.5%, depending on whether the question was administered to all or part of the sample.


Despite all the changes in Iraq and the consensus that the situation is worsening, the fact remains that the American public hasn't changed their opinions concerning Saddam Hussein's links to Al Qaeda and Iraq's possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Given that there have been many investigations in the year following the Iraqi regime's fall and many weapons experts inside Iraq releasing reports stating there are no weapons, one would expect these beliefs to change. Why didn't they?

Why not? Are people so Pro-Bush or so Anti-Bush that they don't receive new information or change their standpoint? Well, by correlating answers, of those who believe that Iraq supported Al Qaeda, 57% of those said they planned to vote for Bush, and 39% said they planned on voting for John Kerry. Those who believed that Iraq had WMD just before the war overwhelmingly favored President Bush over Kerry, 74% versus 21%. However, the less confident supported John Kerry. Among the group that said Iraq both had WMDs and supported Al Qaeda, 75% said they will vote for Bush. 78% of those who had neither of those beliefs favored Kerry. The response was evenly divided between both candidates for the people who had belief in either the WMDs OR the Al Qaeda link, 47% for Bush and 48% for Kerry. Thomas Mann, a political analyst and scholar at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, said, "We're so polarized right now that people are seeing what they want to see through a very partisan lens."

Juan Cole, a history professor at University of Michigan and commentator on middle eastern affairs, had the following comments:

Why would so many Americans cling to patently false beliefs? One can only speculate of course. But I would suggest that the two-party system in the US has produced a two-party epistemology. Epistemology is the study of how we know what we know. If it were accepted that Saddam had virtually nothing to do with al-Qaeda, that he had no weapons of mass destruction (nor any significant programs for producing them), and that no evidence for such things has been uncovered after the US and its allies have had a year to comb through Baath documents-- if all that is accepted, then President Bush's credibility would suffer. For his partisans, it is absolutely crucial that the president retain his credibility. Therefore, rather than face reality, they re-jigger it to create a fantasy world in which Saddam and Usamah are buddies (as in the Jimmy Fallon/ Horatio Sanz skits on the American comedy show, Saturday Night Live), and in which David Kay (of whom respondents say they've never heard) never recanted his earlier belief that the WMD was there somewhere...

If 57% of Americans believe that Saddam was supporting Usama in the late 1990s through 2003, it means that not insignificant numbers of Democrats believe this. It shows that the Democratic party leadership has not developed an effective critique of Bush administration approaches to the 'war on terror,' and that in effect the Republicans are poaching on Democratic territory successfully in this regard.

It is bad for the country for policy to be made based on falsehoods, and it is even worse for failed policies not be be recognized as such because the public clings to myths.

Among other studies, PIPA released a study in October 2003 showing how the US Media (and in, particular, Fox News), seem to be creating or perpetuating misperceptions about American foreign policy.


The Program on International Policy Attitudes -
The Complete Report of Findings, 26 pages and bar graphs --
The Questionnaire and data totals --

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