One of the more remarkable things about the enormous effort put into this week full of Petraeus hearings, White House spin and assorted PR from all sides is how little movement any of it has generated in public opinion. I am mindful of making that conclusion a bit prematurely, before the week is over and before the President's speech tonight. So we'll just have to wait and see the final results. But I had the sense last week as we were gearing up for this Washington spectacle that for most Americans, who made up their minds on Iraq quite some time ago, the events of this week would be of little consequence.
American public opinion on Iraq and the Bush policies on Iraq has been locked in place for an unusually long period of time, especially considering how strongly negative the polling is. I am not a polling expert and statistics are not my strong suit but my intuitive sense is that after public opinion turns strongly negative you would tend to see a softening of that opinion over time. I believe the term of art in statistics is reversion to the mean. The folksy truism is people don't stay mad for long.
In this case, people are not so much mad as they are very dissatisfied, and consistently so. There have been some small dips and bumps in the polling data over the last many months, but they have for the most part been negligible. Just today, AP polling begun during the Petraeus hearings showed little movement in opinion on Iraq and the president. CNN shows the President today still mired at 36% approval. One poll out did show considerable movement, but I not sure it can be said to undermine the point I'm making here. The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows an 8 point jump in the President's approval rating--to a whopping 30%. That poll's respondents went from enraged to merely pissed off.
The day's most remarkable poll may be from Fox News, which asked whether respondents thought the Petraeus report was truthful and objective or slanted toward Bush Administration policies. More people thought it was slanted (40%) than that it was truthful (35%). The distinguished general's reputation notwithstanding, people we're not buying what he had to say.
Given the immovable numbers, it's all the more apparent that the target audience this week has not been voters but congressional Republicans. They are the key to President Bush being able to continue a terribly unpopular war until he leaves office. So long as they stand by him, he can maintain his grip on Iraq policy in the face of longstanding and deep public dissatisfaction.
Late Update: To clarify, the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll number above is Bush's job approval on Iraq.