Okay, back on Monday we discussed Tony Snow’s comments about how if polls had been taken during World War II’s Battle of the Bulge people would probably have been pushing for a change in the course of the war as they are now in Iraq.
That’s actually an insult to the American people generally, as well as the men who fought World War II and those who supported them on the homefront.
In any case, Snow clearly believes he can get away with this malarkey because he thinks polls weren’t taken at the time.
But he’s wrong. They were taking them. And they pretty clearly belie Snow’s whole point.
My great friend and former graduate student colleague James Sparrow dropped me a line last night to tell me that “Hadley Cantril, at Princeton, did secret polling for FDR throughout the war on public support for the war, and specifically focused on trendlines, noting shifts from event to event.”
This morning we managed to dig up a helpful chart that shows the polling Cantril did (click the image below for a full sized picture).
As you can see, there was no downtick in public support for the war around the time of the Battle of the Bulge. Approval for President Roosevelt’s conduct of the war continued at around 70% where it had been for years. The number of people who said they had a clear idea of what the war was about was at about the same level and appears to have been rising. Support for a negotiated peace with Hitler remained around the anemic levels it had been for years — at around 15%.
The only slight movement in the polls was a brief uptick in the number of people who would be willing to negotiate a peace with the German Army if they got rid of Hitler. That went up to the mid-30s before falling down again into the 20s. Keep in mind too that this was a much more primitive period for the collection of public opinion data. So a lot of the small wobbles in the trendlines are probably within the polls’ then-larger margins of error. But the basic picture is clear: the American people then, as they will now, will stick through a lot of adversity if they think the war they’re fighting matters and that their president knows what he’s doing.
Then they did. Now they don’t.
Also, this isn’t just a gotcha on Tony Snow, showing the existence of polls he wasn’t aware of, and so forth. There’s a serious underlying point here about the administration’s basic frivolousness in its conduct of the war.
No one thinks you can fight a war or conduct any project of great consequence by following minor oscillations in polls. But long term and imbedded trends in public opinion mean something. In this case, the public can see President Bush doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Having his flacks go out and compare him to great wartime leaders of the past and insult the American people in the process doesn’t change that.