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March 13, 2008
Surge in Public Support for the War
A significant surge in public support for the war in Iraq threatens to upend expectations for the November election from president on down.
According to late February polling conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 53 percent of Americans — a slim majority — now believe “the U.S. will ultimately succeed in achieving its goals” in Iraq. That figure is up from 42 percent in September 2007. In recent years, events on the ground in Iraq have affected elections. The 2006 mid term sweep by Democrats came at the nadir of the war with US and Iraqi casualties peaking. On the other hand, the remarkable resurgence of John McCain's candidacy came about in the late fall when it became clear that the military surge he supported so vigorously was showing signs of success.
The percentage of those who believe the war in Iraq is going “very well” or “fairly well” is also up, from 30 percent in February 2007 to 48 percent today.
The situation in Iraq remains fluid, of course. A surge in violence or in troop deaths could lead to rapid fluctuations in public opinion. But as the war nears its fifth year, the steady upturn in the public mood stands to alter the dynamics of races up and down the ballot.
The repercussions will be most acutely felt in the presidential contest. Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton remain committed to a staggered pullout, while Republican John McCain holds steadfast in his support for the Bush administration’s military surge.
WIth Iraq still a big issue in the presidential campaign, news that the American public is changing its mind about some aspects of the war can only mean huge trouble for the Democratic nominee in the general election. Both Obama and Clinton have embraced retreating from Iraq, promising to remove all American troops. If things continue to improve over the next months, one can only imagine the hay that John McCain will make out that position.
Six months ago, Republican prospects in November were bleak. While they are still not optimum, GOP hopes have been raised considerably as a result of the success on the ground in Iraq. The American people have taken note and may be in a mood to punish Democrats for their defeatist talk in the face of military success.