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August 28, 2007

Who Are Bush's 33%?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Shadi poses a good question:  who are the folks who are still pleased with President Bush's performance?  Commenters provide some answers, some of which are actually dead wrong (the most highly-educated and affluent, in fact, are turning away from Bush in droves), and some of which do have the whiff of stereotype about them.  Stan Greenberg over at Democracy Corps had a wonderful comment in his last polling memo:  "the rush to be done with Bush is turning America a little classless."

Back in 2004, public opinion scholar Steven Kull gave one of the best answers I've seen.  Crudely summarized, he posits -- and found some data supporting -- a core group of Americans who, after the scare of 9/11, were very heavily emotionally invested in President Bush's ability to protect them.  This emotional investment caused them to screen out contradictory data points, which led Kull to some crazy findings.  For example, more than half of a sample of confirmed Bush voters in fall 2004 supported the International Criminal Court and Kyoto -- and thought Bush did too

The roots of the Bush supporters' resistance to information," Steven opines, "very likely lie in the traumatic experience of 9/11 and equally in the near pitch-perfect leadership that President Bush showed in its immediate wake."

This bond between Bush and his supporters, Kull notes, interacts with some "idealized image of the President" that they hold. And the two, together, make "it difficult for his supporters to imagine that he could have made incorrect judgments before the war, that world public opinion could be critical of his policies, or that the President could hold foreign policy positions that are at odds with [those of] his supporters."

John Judis has a good piece in the New Republic that sheds some more light on this, writing about three political psychologists who've studied how subliminal reminders of our own mortality lead people to more culturally conservative, aggressive and discriminatory worldviews.  They've documented that reminders of 9/11 do function as mortality reminders for many people, producing the same cultural/political shift.

So who are those folks?  They're very, very afraid.  Of death, of their own death, of their own place in a country where the rules might be changing -- or might already have changed. 


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I know some of these people: my retired-pharmaceutical-executive uncle and his Rush-Limbaugh-listening wife. They're still 100% behind Bush, and can't understand why anyone else wouldn't be.

I don't see anything mysterious about their support for Bush. They're doing OK economically, don't know anyone serving in Iraq, and get all their information from Limbaugh and Fox News, so the idea that there might be something slightly wrong with what Bush is doing has never reached their eyes, ears or brains.

Bush's policies have not adversely impacted them personally, and they're not very intellectually curious, so they're never going to seek out anyone from the majority who dislikes Bush to find out why.

Could this picture describe 33% of the American people? Sure it could.

The reason that Americans might be frightened has a lot to do with the corporate media which not only parrots but distorts and amplifies the government attempts to keep the American people scared and dependant on Big Brother.

The lead editorial in the Washington Post on August 21st was: Tougher on Iran : According to the Pentagon, one-third of the U.S. troops who died in Iraq last month -- 23 soldiers -- were killed by "explosively formed penetrators," sophisticated bombs supplied by Tehran. Iran also delivers rockets and other weapons to Shiite militias; on Sunday, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said that about 50 members of the Revolutionary Guard Corps were operating in the area south of Baghdad, where they are "facilitating training of Shiite extremists."

Major General Lynch on EFP's in Iraq: We're doing things like looking at tool marks on these EFPs and the source of the explosives and the manufacturing capability, and those EFP components are coming to Iran -- coming from Iran into Iraq, and they're killing Iraqis, and they're killing the coalition soldiers. . . what we're finding is distinct marks that could only be created by machinery and capabilities coming out of Iran. So there's no doubt in my mind when I talk about EFP components being manufactured in Iran and coming into Iraq and then assembled inside of Iraq to attack our soldiers and Iraqi security force soldiers and innocent Iraqis . . And there are indeed manufacturing marks on these munitions that could only have come from a place like Iran, the only place they could have come. They couldn't have been manufactured here in Iraq. They are being assembled here in Iraq.

Major General Lynch on Iranians in Iraq: We assess that there are 50 or so Iranian and Iraqi operatives working for Iran in our area, about 20 of which who we are actively targeting. . . What I believe in my battlespace is I've got IRGC surrogates, people that have been trained by the IRGC in Iran who've come back in Iraq to conduct acts of violence, and I believe I got some members of the IRGC, some Iranians, who are working in our battlespace. And what they do is they transit the battlespace. They don't come in and they stay, but they're going back and forth. The primary concern, as I say, is the number 50; the good majority of those are IRGC surrogates. They're operatives that have been trained by the IRGC. . . Having said that, I do believe that at any given time, I got up to about 20 Iranians working in our battlespace, you know, either training Iraqis to conduct acts of violence or conducting those acts of violence themselves, and we're working detailed targeting on all those people.

So we have General Lynch's "distinct marks that could only be created by machinery and capabilities coming out of Iran" and "EFP components being manufactured in Iran" and "distinct marks that could only be created by machinery and capabilities coming out of Iran" and "no doubt in my mind when I talk about EFP components being manufactured in Iran and coming into Iraq and then assembled inside of Iraq" converted by the WaPo to ""explosively formed penetrators, sophisticated bombs supplied by Tehran".

We also have General Lynch's "50 or so Iranian and Iraqi operatives working for Iran" or "IRGC surrogates" or "some members of the IRGC, some Iranians" or "operatives that have been trained by the IRGC" or "Iranians" transformed by the WaPo into "about 50 members of the Revolutionary Guard Corps".

Why are some American people scared? They react to what they read in the papers and see on TV. The WaPo distortions are particularly bad as they propel the US to a huge widening of the ME wars, and that's really scary. But disasters are good for business, and business buys advertising, and that's what keeps the WaPo going.

P.S. Credit to the New York Times, which rushed us to war in Iraq, regarding EFP's: ''The assertion of an Iranian role in supplying the device to Shiite militias reflects broad agreement among American intelligence [sic] agencies, although officials acknowledge that the picture is not entirely complete.''

The lowest common denominator in Republican Party Presidential politics for many years has been that a Republican President or Presidential aspirant must be seen as a strong leader who stands up to liberals and the media. Republican Presidents may have other attributes as well, but these two are the essential ones for generating enthusiasm among the GOP base.

President Bush has striven assiduously to meet these two criteria throughout his time in the White House, and consequently remains popular with the most reliable Republican voters. Most of these people regard political liberals as having wrong values, and think of the media as reporting only the things that are wrong about America. Liberals and media types are free to think of this as a psychological disorder if they wish, or as a side-effect of 9/11; political conservatives are not the only people who react to deeply ingrained prejudices. Short of something really, historically dramatic, though -- on the order of the "smoking gun" Watergate tape that precipitated Nixon's resignation, or a major recession -- we should not expect Bush's approval ratings to go very much lower than they are right now.

See my comments in the prior thread about the work of Robert Altemeyer as to another take on how psychological make up influences attitudes.

His work is more statistical and not as infused with Freudian overtones as the work cited in TNR seems to be.

The relevant factor in the current context is his finding that such people can believe mutually contradictory things at the same time and also dismiss or ignore data which challenges their beliefs. He takes a pessimistic view and says that nothing will change them.

I think people are misunderstanding what's happening at the moment. Supporters may be dropping Bush in droves, but they haven't changed their basic beliefs. They will flounder around in the wilderness for awhile waiting for the next "fearless leader" to emerge and then just switch their allegiance. Notice that when a fundamentalist preacher is discredited the followers don't tend to drop out of the movement as rather to switch to a new preacher. Sometimes this means moving to a new congregation, but their need to be part of the group doesn't change.

Condescension via anecdote, and fuzzy psychoanalysis (of a very large sample)? From a blogger named Heather?

Don't worry. I'm not really here. I didn't read the post or comments because I'm very, very afraid.

CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll. Aug. 6-8, 2007
"Do you think the United States can win or cannot win the war in Iraq?" Half sample, MoE ± 4.5

Can Cannot Unsure 8/6-8/07
% % %
54 43 3

Christian is cherrypicking.

The CNN polls show that a majority of Americans oppose the Iraq War, think the US is not winning, disapprove of the way President Bush and Congress are handling the war, think the Iraq war is not worth fighting, want to withdraw forces, believe the surge will not improve security, think that US forces should be decreased and support legislation to withdraw forces by next spring.

A recent CBS News Poll:
"Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling the situation with Iraq?"

Approve 26%
Disapprove 69%
Unsure 5%

I guess I agree with Christian on the silliness of the "psychological" explanation offered. Why do people continue to support Bush? Because they're Republicans, and Bush is a Republican, and his supporters have not paid any price for his disastrous policies.

Party loyalty pretty much explains it all. Most people stick by their party until they have personally suffered some setback that they can directly trace to that party's policies. Lose your business, your job or your home because Bush mishandled the economy, lose a son of daughter in Iraq, and you might start to reconsider your politics. But it takes consequences of that magnitude to make people loyal to a political party abandon a President of the same party.

And Bush's whole modus operandi has been precisely to prevent any direct consequences of his policies from falling on his supporters. No draft, no tax cuts to fund the war, etc. So he gets to hold on to his 33%, for what it's worth.

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