Via Balkinization, I found a survey of US public opinion of the Iraq war and related matters. This survey has a lot of interesting information regarding public beliefs about the Iraq war and their correlation with media and political beliefs.
Regarding Iraq’s connections to al-Qaeda, 22% thought that Iraq was directly involved in carrying out the September 11th attacks while 35% believed Iraq gave substantial support to al-Qaeda, but was not involved in the September 11th attacks. Only 7% were of the opinion that there was no connection while 30% believed that a few al-Qaeda individuals visited Iraq or had contact with Iraqi officials. This was well-known as I have posted about it before. What’s surprising is that 48% think that the US has found clear evidence in Iraq that Saddam Hussein was working closely with the al-Qaeda terrorist organization.
Also, 24% of the people surveyed in September believe that the US has found Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. And it seems all of them live in some bizarro-world because 20% think that Iraq used chemical or biological weapons in the war that just ended.
I have mentioned before that Americans have a very high opinion of their effect on the world. It seems it can sometimes extend to hallucinating about world opinion. A quarter of the people think that a majority of the people of the world favored the US going to war while another 31% believe that world opinion was equally divided on the matter.
The survey looks at three major misconceptions related to the war:
- Evidence of links between Iraq and al-Qaeda have been found.
- Weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq.
- World public opinion favored the US going to war with Iraq.
Their findings were scary:
Misperceptions were not limited to a small minority that had repeated misperceptions. A majority of 60% had at least one of these three unambiguous misperceptions, and only 30% had no misperceptions. […]Thirty-two percent had just one of the misperceptions (and no more), 20% had two of the misperceptions and just 8% had all three of the misperceptions.
It seems that the support for the war was heavily dependent on these misperceptions.
58% of those who believed that Iraq was directly involved in carrying out the September 11th attacks approved of the US going to war without UN approval. These guys sure are crazy. What were the other 42% thinking? No, Iraq attacked us but we are nice people, we don’t want to go to war. Wholly irrational! This support for war reduced to 37% among those who thought that Iraq gave substantial support to al-Qaeda, but was not involved in the September 11th attacks. It was similar (32%) if one believed that a few al-Qaeda individuals visited Iraq or had contact with Iraqi officials while 25% of those who didn’t see any connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq still wanted war.
Another irrationality: A full 33% did not support war (i.e., 67% supported war) among those who believed that the US has found clear evidence in Iraq that Saddam Hussein was working closely with the al-Qaeda. These 33% get an award for holding two contradictory thoughts as well as believing in falsehoods. Only 29% of those who thought that the US has not found clear evidence support the war.
74% of the people who think that the US has found Iraqi weapons of mass destruction support the Iraq war, while 42% who believe that WMD have not been found do.
Looking at the three misperceptions, it is clear that support for war was bigger among those who were misinformed:
|Only 1 misperception
|Only 2 misperceptions
|All 3 misperceptions
The most interesting part of their analysis has to do with the correlation between the misperceptions about the war and their news source.
|1 or more
|2 or more
Seems like Fox News viewers have lots of problems with facts!
The number of respondents for this table was 1,362 only which can be a problem especially for NPR/PBS (3%), so they analyzed the larger data:
To check these striking findings, we analyzed the data a different way, using the larger sample of 3,334 who had answered at least one of the three questions just mentioned. For each misperception we determined how widespread it was in each media audience […], and then for each media audience averaged this frequency for the three misperceptions. […]Again, the Fox News audience showed the highest average rate of misperceptions—45%—
while the NPR/PBS audience showed the lowest—10%.
Is the explanation politics then? Do Republican watch more Fox News than Democrats? Possibly, but not completely.
Looking just at Republicans, the average rate for the three key misperceptions was 43%. For Republican Fox viewers, however the average rate was 54% while for Republicans who get their news from PBS-NPR the average rate is 32%. This same pattern obtains with Democrats and independents.
Could it be demographics?
Among those with a bachelor’s degree or more, the average rate of misperceptions was 27%. However among those who get their news from print media the average rate was 20%, while among those who get their news from PBS-NPR the average rate was 10%. This pattern obtains at other educational levels as well.
May be it is because some people pay more attention to the news than others.
While it would seem that misperceptions are derived from a failure to pay
attention to the news, overall, those who pay greater attention to the news are no less likely to have misperceptions. Among those who primarily watch Fox, those who pay more attention are more likely to have misperceptions [almost doubling for each of the 3 misperceptions from those who don’t follow news closely at all to those that follow it very closely — ZA]. Only those who mostly get their news from print media, and to some extent those who primarily watch CNN, have fewer misperceptions as they pay more attention.
Going back to political views, it seems that support for Bush is the critical factor in having these misperceptions, not Republican identity.
Here is the average frequency of key misperceptions among those who plan to vote for:
||Average misperception frequency
|President George Bush
|Evidence of links to al-Qaeda
|World public opinion favorable
And it doesn’t matter whether you are Republican, Democrat or independent.
Among Bush supporters, Republicans, Democrats and independents were similarly likely to believe that the US has found clear evidence that Saddam Hussein was working closely with al-Qaeda (pro-Bush Republicans 68%, pro-Bush Democrats 77%, pro-Bush independents 66%).
Your illness becomes worse if you are both a supporter of President Bush and watch Fox News.
78% of Bush supporters who watch Fox News thought the US has found evidence of a direct link to al-Qaeda, but only 50% of Bush supporters in the PBS and NPR audience thought this. On the other side, 48% of Democrat supporters who watch Fox News thought the US has found evidence of a direct link to al-Qaeda, but not one single respondent who is a Democrat supporter and relies on PBS and NPR for network news thought the US had found such evidence.
Also, being a supporter of President Bush has the same effect on you as watching Fox News. The more you follow the news, the more misinformed you become.
|Exposure to news
|Not closely at all
|Not very closely
Moral of the story: Stay away from Fox News. If you can’t, don’t follow the news on it closely. You’ll be less misinformed if you don’t watch their news.