A tale of two polls

Do Americans want a deadline for bringing the troops home? It depends on how you ask the question.

Published June 27, 2006 2:20PM (EDT)

One day, two newspapers:

"Most in Poll Want Plan for Pullout From Iraq": USA Today, June 27, reporting on a new USA Today/Gallup poll in which 50 percent of the respondents say they want all U.S. troops home from Iraq within 12 months, and 57 percent say that Congress should pass a resolution outlining plans for a troop withdrawal.

"Nation Is Divided on Drawdown of Troops": The Washington Post, June 27, reporting on a new Washington Post/ABC News poll in which 51 percent of the respondents say that the Bush administration should not set a deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.

Why the difference -- if, given the margins of error in the polls, there really is a difference?

It could be the way in which the pollsters asked the questions. The USA Today/Gallup pollsters asked respondents to pick a plan for U.S. troops: "Withdraw immediately," "withdraw in 12 months' time," "withdraw, take as many years as needed" or "send more troops." The Washington Post/ABC pollsters, on the other hand, wrapped the question in incomplete political arguments: "Some people say the Bush administration should set a deadline for withdrawing U.S. military forces from Iraq in order to avoid further casualties. Others say knowing when the U.S. would pull out would only encourage the anti-government insurgents. Do you yourself think the United States should or should not set a deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq?" In other words, should we get out just to save American lives, even if that would be a victory for the terrorists? Karl Rove couldn't have framed the question much better himself -- and 47 percent of the respondents still said that some timetable is better than no timetable.

What the polls have in common: Big majorities in both -- 67 percent in the USA Today/Gallup poll, 64 percent in the Washington Post/ABC poll -- say that George W. Bush does not have a clear plan for Iraq.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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